New report on driverless trucks maps out global action on driver jobs and legal issues

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

A new report says governments must consider ways to manage the transition to driverless trucks in order to avoid potential social disruption from job losses.

The report was prepared jointly by the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA), the International Transport Workers’ Federation and the International Road Transport Union (IRU), the road transport’s industry’s global body, in a project led by the International Transport Forum, a Paris-based intergovernmental organisation linked to the OECD.

The report says self-driving trucks will help save costs, lower emissions and make roads safer, and could also address the shortage of professional drivers in the industry.

But one scenario examined for the report suggests automated trucks could reduce the demand for drivers by 50 to 70% in the US and Europe by 2030, with up to 4.4 million of the projected 6.4 million professional trucking jobs becoming redundant.

Other scenarios say even if the rise of driverless trucks dissuades newcomers from trucking, more than 2 million drivers in the US and Europe could be directly displaced.

The report makes four recommendations to help manage the transition to driverless road freight:

  • Establish a transition advisory board to advise on labour issues.

  • Consider a temporary permit system to manage the speed of adoption.

  • Set international standards, road rules and vehicle regulations for self-driving trucks.

  • Continue pilot projects with driverless trucks to test vehicles, network technology and communications protocols.

These recommendations were jointly agreed by organisations representing truck manufacturers, truck operators and transport workers' unions, under the auspices of an intergovernmental organisation. This broad coalition of stakeholders lends the call to action particular weight.

ITF secretary-general José Viegas said driverless trucks could be a regular presence on many roads within the next 10 years.

“Selfdriving trucks already operate in controlled environments like ports or mines. Trials on public roads are under way in many regions including the United States and the European Union. Manufacturers are investing heavily into automation, and many governments are actively reviewing their regulations. Preparing now for potential negative social impact of job losses will mitigate the risks in case a rapid transition occurs.”

ACEA secretary general Erik Jonnaert said harmonisation of rules across countries was critical for maximising the gains from driverless truck technology.

“Automated trucks are clearly not a national issue, as they should be able to move smoothly across borders. We need international standards, legislation and processes to obtain exemptions from road rules that are appropriate for self-driving trucks. Otherwise we risk having a patchwork of rules and regulations, which could hinder manufacturers and road users from investing in automated vehicles.”

IRU president Christian Labrot said that autonomous trucks would bring many benefits to society, from cost savings and lower emissions to safer roads, and they would also help the haulage sector deal with the current shortage of drivers in many parts of the world.

“However we have to remember the dedicated drivers of today will need to be retrained tomorrow, and we must keep attracting professionals into road transport. We all need to work together for a smooth transition to driverless technology.”

International Transport Workers’ Federation general secretary Steve Cotton said that automation in trucking demands a managed and just transition and welcomed the report’s recommendation that trade unions be part of any such process.

“We must avoid excessive hardship for truck drivers and ensure the gains from the technology are fairly shared across society. Self-driving trucks threaten to disrupt the careers and lives of millions of professional truck drivers. This report is a timely investigation into how that transition could happen. Its recommendations will help governments to ensure a just transition for affected drivers.”

You can download the full report from: https://www.itf-oecd.org/managing-transition-driverless-road-freight-transport