American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear said he doesn’t view the ongoing advancement of autonomous trucking as a threat to drivers, since economic factors will ensure demand for drivers for years to come, reports Transport Topics.
“I’m not threatened by it because of where our economy, where our country and where our industry is headed,” Spear said during the 2022 Recruitment and Retention Conference, hosted by Conversion Interactive Agency, ATA and Transport Topics. “It’s all about growth. Right now, one in 16 jobs in the United States is trucking related. The top job in 29 states is being a truck driver.”
Spear stressed, however, that discussion centered on automation is “thought-provoking.”
He noted that the trucking industry is at a pivotal moment when it comes to the technology, with a lot of key questions being asked. While he acknowledged some division over where automation in trucking is headed, he stressed that the technology has arrived. It’s undergoing innovation, testing and deployment, and he has seen it work.
“It’s not just a discussion point — I actually rode in a fully automated truck,” Spear said. “It went 60 miles on the interstate in Arizona. Hands never touched the wheel. You begin to appreciate the reality in a situation like that.”
He noted, however, that demand for trucking services — from many corners — will ensure that drivers’ services will be required for years to come.
“We’re moving 72.5% of domestic freight,” Spear said. “Long gone are the days when trucking and rail would duke it out. We’re now rail’s biggest customer.”
Spear said he has witnessed that transformation over the last 15 years, and noted that the current supply chain issues and bottlenecks demonstrate why it’s important for different modes to work together.
Spear emphasized the added pressure these expectations place on the supply chain and trucking, in particular.
“Right now we’re moving more with fewer people and less equipment,” Spear said. “You’re going to have to add more people. You’re going to have to add more equipment. You’re going to have to make improvements in infrastructure. And you’re going to have to innovate. There’s room for both to coexist. People and automation can solve this problem collectively without being threats toward that future. So, there’s plenty of room.”
Spear urged the industry to search for ways that humans and automation can coexist. He pointed specifically to autonomous trucks being more suited for regional operations, whereas human drivers will be better suited for longhaul operations. He believes this kind of delineation could help ease and offset the high demand for drivers.
“I don’t look at this as a threat,” Spear said. “I look at this as how innovation could actually help alleviate some of the pressure that we’re feeling on the supply chain, and on the industry to meet our customers’ demands.”
Full article here.