Can Self-Driving Trucks Help Solve Labor Shortages?


Over the past few years, there’s been a nationwide shortage of truck drivers. This has added an additional complication to supply chain delays that have also been affected by the pandemic and weather extremes.

With over 70% of freight in the country being moved by the trucking industry, this is a problem that needs to be solved sooner rather than later.

Factors Contributing to the Trucking Labor Shortage

So, why is there a shortage now? One major factor is that the pandemic led some longtime drivers to retire earlier than they had originally planned. As older drivers move on to the next phase of their lives, however, recruitment efforts for younger drivers can’t keep up. Global Trade explains it:

“The workforce composition suggests that young workers are not being recruited at rates that will replace current workers as they exit the market due to age or disability.”

As Coyote suggests, other reasons for the shortage include ineffective job postings, skill gap issues, and potential candidates putting a higher priority on work-life balance than long haul freight allows.

How Self-Driving Trucks Could Change the Industry

Fortunately, emerging technology in the form of self-driving trucks could help ease the burden of the trucking shortage. Over the past few years, several companies have already been testing self-driving trucks. For the time being, there are drivers in the vehicles during these tests, but the hope is that a switch to full autonomous mode could happen by 2023 or 2024.

These developments can serve to make nearly every aspect of the trucking industry more efficient, as explained in a recent article from CCJ:

“With the future of self-driving trucks coming into sharper focus, technology companies are working on applications to digitize the full transportation ecosystem to automate steps, like inspecting vehicles and exchanging paperwork, which until now have required human involvement.”

Potential Benefits

Aside from increasing efficiency in the industry, autonomous trucks could help increase safety on the road by eliminating human error. Since self-driving trucks don’t get tired like humans do, the hope is that preventable accidents will decrease. These trucks are also equipped with various safety sensors to help warn of potential dangers well in advance.

Potential Ares of Concern

Of course, there are still some hurdles to cross before we can start to see self-driving trucks become a reality. All of the exciting safety features of these trucks are still being tested to make sure they will pose no danger to other drivers on the road. There are also regulations that will need to pass before self-driving trucks become the norm on the road.

A Happy Medium for Now

Until that day, the reality is that truckers and technology work best together, with the implementation of driver-assisted technology in the vehicles. Redwood Logistics explains:

“Since operational costs, routine service and maintenance, and other expenses are a hurdle, finding a way to integrate them on a gradual basis can help transportation reduce the initial investment. Some organizations including UPS, FedEx, and DHL have already begun to slowly introduce the semi-autonomous concept at freight loading facilities, hubs, and depots. Making the next logical step to on-road transportation equipment, operated by a professional driver for safety, simply makes sense.”

The reality is that we will always need human drivers in the trucking industry. But, with new technological advancements, we can make their jobs easier, make recruitment more enticing, and help mitigate future labor shortages and supply chain issues so that everyone wins.