As automation looms over the U.S. trucking industry’s near future, we look at what it’s like to be a truck driver today and what the future holds for the truck drivers whose jobs could be on the chopping block.
The U.S. Truck Driver’s Dilemma
Over the years, a combination of legislation with increasing demands from both consumers and companies alike have pushed truckers to perform at nearly inhuman capacities.
Couple this with the fact that the average annual wage of a truck driver for 2016 was $43,590; which is actually less than what truck drivers earned in 1980 after adjusting for inflation.
The result from all of this is an entire workforce that feels more underpaid, underappreciated, and overburdened as each day goes by.
Federal legislation in recent years is, in fact, a large contributor to the above problem.
While ELDs and elogs are increasing the amount of monitoring being performed on drivers’ operations, they are not the real problem.
The 14-hour HOS rule has created a lot of pressure to speed things up, and it is detrimental to truckers due to the fact that most of them are paid by the mile, not by the hour.
Until the FMCSA revises that HOS rule, drivers will continue to experience the recurring problem of not having enough time.
This is due to the fact that the 14-hour period is consecutive, so that means all on-duty and off-duty time counts towards it.
With the combination of the 14-hour HOS rule and ELDs working against truck drivers, it’s easy to see why they feel slighted by the system.
It seems that U.S. trucker morale is reaching an all-time low, due to feeling used and abused by nearly everyone around them.
For example, Greg Simmons, a driver of 27 years, feels that the general public sees truck drivers as “throwaway people”.
An unappreciative society, laws working against them, and low pay, it’s no wonder American truck drivers are becoming fed up.
This ironic, due to heavy/tractor-trailer truck drivers numbering at around 1.8 million in the U.S.
Truckers – One Of The Largest Workforces In The U.S.
For a long time now, truck driving has been safe from the two domestic job-killers that are globalization and automation.
This is due to the fact that someone across the world can’t drive a truck in the U.S. (yet) and robots aren’t entirely capable enough to reliably drive vehicles (yet).
However, with truck driving being one of the most common jobs in the U.S., automation poses a very real threat to the livelihood of a very large amount of people.
This threat is especially relevant to long haul truckers, as mentioned in our previous article on the future of the U.S. trucking industry, since these are the specific segment of trucking most companies are looking to phase out in their plans.
As we continue to approach a future where automated vehicles become commonplace on the road, it’s important to step back and preempt which areas of the country will be hit hardest by the next technological revolution.
A study performed by the Center for Global Policy Solutions (CGPS) shows that California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Illinois have the highest amount of workers in driving jobs.
Despite this, the study stated that the states of North Dakota, Idaho, Wyoming, West Virginia, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Iowa will be hit the hardest by the automation of driving jobs.
With the elimination of the long haul truck driver seemingly imminent, many have speculated as to how the U.S. trucking industry will change.
Uber sees local “transfer hubs” forming in response to this, where human tuck drivers will receive loads from fully autonomous trucks and transport them the last few miles to delivery.
The head of the U.S branch of Daimler made the statement that “tomorrow’s driver will be a logistics manager”.
Truck drivers who do not want to exit the industry should heed the above two sentences as sage advice, and start making initial preparations to adapt.
So How Long Until We See Automated Trucks On The Road?
Some predict that the competition between the large tech companies will push self-driving trucks to be commonplace within the next 5 to 10 years.
Automation will bring drastic changes to every part of the industry – fleet management, dispatching, hauling, shipping facilities, delivery operations, and more.
However, even with all of these changes, it largely seems that these companies are ignoring the question of massive job loss caused by their innovations.
In an endless race to improve their bottom lines, tech companies are willing to win at any cost to please the end consumer and cut costs, while eventually, millions lose their jobs throughout the U.S. transportation industry.
The real problem lies in the fact that while automation creates new jobs as well, these jobs cannot be easily performed by the truck drivers who are being replaced, which will further income inequality in the U.S.
In order to adapt and survive this impending wave of job automation, truckers have a few options at varying levels of difficulty:
First, they can position themselves to be drivers in the local transfer hubs, however, this is risky due to the fact that these local transfer hubs may become overcrowded with an abundance of other truck drivers with nowhere else to go.
This is easy but the least likely to be profitable.
Second, truckers can begin transitioning to logistics manager roles by educating themselves and expressing interest to their carriers about entering the logistics field.
This is hard but can be very profitable.
Third, truckers can switch to being mechanics or inspectors for the new wave of autonomous trucks that will be hitting U.S. roads, since nobody knows a truck better than its driver.
This is not too difficult, but also not too easy, and is likely to be profitable.
Currently, a third of the U.S. trucking industry’s costs go to paying drivers and Finn Murphy, the author of The Long Haul, believes that these high tech companies are looking to swallow that up.
So while there’s still a lot of money to be made in the U.S. transportation industry, there are very big players looking to take it.
That’s why it’s important for truck drivers to realize what’s at stake within the next few years in this industry, and to properly prepare for it before it’s too late.
It’s clear now who the winners and losers will be when automation hits the U.S. trucking industry, and it seems it will be a free-for-all when it comes to who gets what little jobs remain on the other end.
Change is coming for better or worse, and it’s up to the individual to prepare for it beforehand.
We don’t recommend holding out hope for the larger corporations to solve the elimination of jobs.