If you’re concerned about the potential impact autonomous vehicle technology will have on truck drivers in the future, you’re not alone. On April 26, 2017, Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Jack Reed (D-RI) sent a letter to the U.S. Government Accountability Office asking it to look into how it will affect truck drivers and the communities where they live. The senators also want to know what steps are being taken now to help American truck drivers who may be unseated from their jobs adapt and retrain.
The senators noted that nearly 2 million people today earn their living operating and repairing heavy trucks and tractor-trailers, at an average salary of over $40,000 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These workers tend to be concentrated in more rural states where employment options may be limited. There is also an entire economic ecosystem of businesses and workers whose employment models depend on truck drivers regularly stopping to eat, drink, rest, and refuel that will also be impacted by the shift to driverless cars and trucks.
In their joint letter, Senators Collins and Reed, who is the ranking member of the Senate’s Transportation and Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee, asked the GAO to look at three main issues surrounding the adoption of autonomous vehicle technology in the trucking industry:
- What is known about the speed at which automated vehicle technology may be adopted by businesses to replace the current fleet of vehicles used to transport goods and deliver services? To what extent is the adoption of this technology expected to affect employment levels in related occupations?
- What is known about differences in the skills and training that will likely be needed by those who operate and maintain vehicles that are automated versus those who operate existing vehicles using a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL)?
- How are federally-funded employment and training programs, particularly in the regions most likely to be affected by these changes, preparing to assist professional drivers with CDLs whose jobs may be affected and other job seekers who seek training and licensure for the professional driving industry?
“Automated and self-driving vehicles have a number of exciting potentials, from reducing traffic accidents and fatalities to enhancing mobility for seniors and disabled individuals,” Senator Collins said in a statement. “Unfortunately, this new technology also carries the risk of negatively affecting the jobs of those who earn a living through driving. It is vital that we fully understand the future impact of automated and self-driving technology so that we are prepared to help workers adapt to this change.”
“We have a responsibility to fulfill this technology’s promise and foster American innovation, while also keeping our roads safe,” Senator Reed added. “We must also consider the consequences of these technological shifts for American workers and our economy. The impact of autonomous vehicles will be wide ranging and we need a roadmap toward integrating self-driving and autonomous vehicles into our transportation system. We also need a plan to help workers, businesses, and communities that will be impacted by the shift. A detailed analysis from GAO will help us think through how to effectively respond to these shifts and help American workers adapt to inevitable technological change.”