Imagine this: you’re behind the wheel of your truck driving down the highway. You look over to wave at a fellow truck driver – only to discover, there’s no driver at all. Autonomous driving, something that used to sound like a chapter straight out of a classic Steven King novel is now the wave of the future. And, for many truck drivers, the potential job losses and impact on the trucking industry is a little scary.

So are self-driving trucks something to fear? Or to embrace? Here are some things to consider.

Increased traffic

With more and more people on the road – both on highways and urban streets – congestion, traffic jams and parking woes are the new normal. And trucking companies are a key contributor to this increase, especially with companies all competing to try and deliver more, and deliver faster. Whether or not self-driving trucks will help or hurt when it comes to congestion is up for debate. What we do know – and what many industry experts agree on – is that fundamental changes are coming concerning when, where and how semi-trucks are driven. Fortunately for truckers, that likely means more trucking jobs in the trucking industry.

Fuel efficiency

As environmental regulations change for the transportation industry, along with technology and business climates, fuel efficiency promises to stay top-of-mind for many years to come. With automated vehicle technology, trucking companies are able to “set it and forget it” – meaning it can be much easier to achieve optimal speeds and acceleration to ensure better fuel efficiency.

But fuel efficiency will still require a human touch to stay at its best. Many experts anticipate a need for more ride-along drivers who will be needed to maintain, monitor and safeguard the vehicle, all of which are key to keeping a semi-truck running at its peak.

Safety and technology

Truck safety remains one of the biggest questions when it comes to self-driving trucks. And it also remains one of the top reasons why human drivers will likely always maintain a big role in the trucking industry. While data is starting to surface on the safety of self-driving cars, trucks introduce a new set of complications. Namely, trucks are bigger. It takes them longer to stop. Maneuverability can be a challenge in reducing or preventing traffic accidents. They take up more space on roadways. And so far, an autonomous truck’s sensor isn’t foolproof. Even though the sensor’s location on the top of the truck provides an optimal view for seeing traffic up ahead, it can still struggle in bright sunlight, adverse weather conditions and when distinguishing between cars on the side of the road versus road signs. For these reasons and more, self-driving trucks won’t displace truck drivers. The realistic solution would look more like adaptive cruise control. In other words, humans will still be a significant part of the in-cab trucking equation and collision avoidance for the future and beyond.

Driver conditions

The trucking industry’s labor market struggles and consequent driver shortage is no secret. Recruiting a new generation of skilled employees has proved difficult for many companies. But the promise of self-driving vehicles could help improve the job placement situation. More young people would then consider trucking school to pursue truck-driving jobs. Without having to man the wheel for an entire 11-hour shift, drivers could use the time to catch up on paperwork, coordinate return trip hauls, rest up for another drive or even run another business.

Cost-effectiveness

The future of self-driving trucks comes down to cost. Is it worth it for truck companies to pursue this advanced technology? Much like clean fuel fleets, autonomous vehicle technology promises many of them anticipated saving and earning potential. Namely, increasing the 11-hour-per-day limit on human drivers to 24/7 hours of service for self-driven trucks could increase the number of deliveries and lower freight costs.

Additionally, the fuel savings achieved by fewer lead-footed drivers would be substantial. According to industry experts, as trucks are used more efficiently, costs will go down, which could stimulate demand and lead to more business. And, in many experts’ estimations, more freight on the road will mean more humans needed to help get it where it’s going.

The influx of automated vehicle technology makes this an exciting – and nerve-racking – time to be in the trucking industry. Will more self-driving trucks mean higher utilization and more jobs created? Or are trucking jobs going the way of the milkman? Only time will tell, but with the information we have now, it seems likely that the duties of a truck driver are only going to become more important, and the benefits to drivers will only improve human error as technology changes.

Whether you’re taking the wheel or sitting shotgun, your human partners at Inland Truck Parts and Service are always here to help – now and in the future. Contact us to keep your truck in tip-top shape, from routine maintenance and reman, to top-quality parts and beyond.