Lawmakers call for probe into impact of self-driving trucks on jobs

By Jami Jones, managing editor

Autonomous vehicles and all the technological wizardry seem to be capturing headlines left and right. One pesky question that truckers have been asking and are worried about is finally getting its day.

What happens to all the people who make a living driving trucks if the trucks don’t need drivers?

That’s the core question of a letter drafted by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., who are respectively the chairman and the ranking member of the Senate Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development.

The letter, sent in late April to the Government Accountability Office, calls for an inquiry into the impact that automated vehicles will have on the trucking-related workforce.

“The transition to the greater use of automated vehicles raises questions about the future of our national and regional economies and workforce,” the pair wrote in the letter. “Currently nearly 2 million people earn their living operating and repairing heavy trucks and tractors.”

Collins and Reed also noted that many trucking-related jobs are held by individuals in rural areas. A disruption in trucking employment could lead to those individuals and regional economies being “severely impacted.”

The two lawmakers are asking the GAO to delve into not only the effects that automated trucks will have on truck driver jobs, but also how fast it will happen. Going beyond the employment prospects for humans given the rise of the machines, they want to know what skills and training will be needed to operate and maintain the vehicles.

Collins and Reed also want the GAO to look into how federally funded jobs and training programs – particularly in the rural regions most likely to be hit hardest – are preparing to assist drivers put out of work by the self-driving trucks.

The letter was sent about the time a listening session on autonomous vehicles was held by the Department of Transportation. OOIDA representatives at the session report it was less about policy and more about “brainstorming” issues surrounding automated trucks. LL