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Fleet Management 9 min read

Debate worth having: will truckers be replaced by self-driving trucks?

A woman smiles, standing in front of a row of parked semi trucks.

Autonomous trucks could reduce emissions, make roads safer and speed up deliveries, but at what cost?

By 2035, more than half of the vehicles sold in the United States, and two-thirds in China, could be completely autonomous.

According to reports by Goldman Sachs, the trucking sector could be particularly hard hit. It predicts autonomy will be responsible for the loss of 300,000 US truck driving jobs a year.

The benefits for businesses are potentially huge: PwC research found that autonomous trucks will save businesses 25% of their total trucking costs, and reduce the cost of long-haul trucking by 30%.

As well as cost savings, there are benefits - and concerns - around safety, emissions and public acceptance of autonomous vehicles (AVs). Let’s take a look at the debate from both sides of the argument.

A driver's perspective of a digital dashboard displaying intelligent speed assistance.

The case for autonomous trucks

In a whitepaper, autonomous trucking tech company Aurora believes driverless trucks will reduce emissions and operating costs for fleets. Its technology, Aurora Driver, is a self-driving system designed to operate multiple vehicle types, from freight-hauling trucks to ride-hailing passenger vehicles. It also underpins Aurora’s driver-as-a-service products for trucking and ride-hailing. An Aurora spokesperson told HERE360:

“At Aurora, we see a tremendous opportunity to make transportation safer, more efficient and more sustainable. Our autonomous trucks have a nearly 360-degree view of the road around them and the ability to react quickly to prevent collisions and prioritize safety. 

"When driving, the Aurora Driver is attentive, engaged and free of distraction. This technology can perceive the world with a greater field of vision than the human eye, and has been trained by longtime commercial driver's license-holding truck drivers for consistent, reliable and safe operations.

A semi truck driving through a busy port area.

“These benefits are crucial for strengthening our brittle supply chain. Autonomous trucks can drive for long hours without breaks or hours-of-service restrictions, helping goods reach their destinations faster. That means routes that used to require breaks, rest stops and sleep can now be operated as a straight shot – increasing the overall efficiency of the supply chain

"Right now, it takes two to three days to move goods through major freight corridors like Dallas-to-Los Angeles. With autonomous trucks, that trip could take less than 24 hours. 

“We see autonomous trucking technology as an economic engine that can fuel the expansion of the freight and logistics industry, benefiting businesses, consumers and today’s truck drivers. 

"Autonomous trucking technology has already created new logistics jobs in terminal operations, fleet management, dispatch, and more, and academic institutions like Gallatin College in Montana are investing in programs that help build a talent pipeline for this industry. 

“Amid the current truck driver shortage, autonomous trucks give freight businesses the ability to increase fleet sizes to address the rising demand for shipped goods – turbocharging our economy. 

"Because autonomous trucks are designed to handle challenging, arduous long-haul routes, human drivers will continue to be essential for shorter hauls that autonomous trucks do not address – keeping drivers closer to their homes and families.

“Transportation makes up approximately 29% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States and, of this, medium and heavy-duty trucks account for 23%. There is a need for new technologies that reduce freight transportation’s negative impact on climate change. Research from Aurora indicates that autonomous trucking could increase energy efficiency by up to 32% relative to traditional trucking. 

"This could help the freight and logistics industry reduce emissions, meet environmental regulatory mandates, and bring down operating costs. These benefits would come from optimizing highway speeds, limiting idling, eco-driving, traffic reduction and more. Increased energy efficiency could lead to accelerated adoption of next-generation trucking powertrains, like battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell platforms.”

Optimize logistics management with real-time insight

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The key components and features of the HERE Fleet Optimization package include:
  • HERE Tour Planning: Leverages best-in-class map content and complex routing scenarios that consider real-time and historical traffic, alongside vehicle and road restrictions, to ensure optimal deployments of multi-vehicle commercial fleets. Supports fleet managers with the removal of manual route re-planning, greatly improving operational efficiency and costs.
  • HERE Routing: Creates optimized, safe and accurate navigation solutions customized to truck, light commercial vehicle and two-wheeler routing profiles.
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  • HERE Map Rendering: Delivers up-to-date, detailed map data, in raster and vector formats, with rich attributes used specifically by commercial vehicles (including road restrictions, bridge heights, road topology and topography). HERE Map Rendering provides drivers the visualization and cues needed for reliable commercial vehicle navigation and operational excellence globally. 
Charging Station Charge Point Infrastructure EV Electric Vehicle

The case against autonomous trucks

Writing on Politico, Arianna Skibell believes “the displacement of truck drivers, along with worries about the safety of deploying 18-wheelers without humans at the controls, remains a divisive issue”. 

She added: “Long-distance trucks can weigh up to 80,000 pounds, roughly 20 times more than an average car, and move at speeds as fast as 75 mph on rural roads.”

Over in the UK, truck driver Craig Hoodless believes the country’s roads aren’t designed for such vehicles. He told the BBC: “I can understand driverless trucks on highways that are long-distance, straight lines. But we don't have that here. I just delivered to a builder. There's no way a driverless truck could be able to maneuver in and around pallets, bricks and piles of stuff. I don't see it working."

Could autonomous trucks cut emissions as promised, or actually add to the burden? Research by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) reveals that the computing power required by autonomous vehicles could generate as many greenhouse emissions as all the data centers in the world today.

“If we just keep the business-as-usual trends in decarbonization and the current rate of hardware efficiency improvements, it doesn’t seem like it is going to be enough to constrain the emissions from computing onboard autonomous vehicles,” said Soumya Sudhakar, the author of the report. “This has the potential to become an enormous problem. But if we get ahead of it, we could design more efficient autonomous vehicles that have a smaller carbon footprint from the start.”

An electric truck docked at an EV charge station.

As for jobs, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters labor union, which protects the rights of United States and Canadian blue-collar workers, has created an “Autonomous Vehicle Federal Policy Principles” framework. This guiding document is designed for use by federal policymakers as they continue to address issues surrounding autonomous vehicles.

The Teamsters said: “Federal laws and regulations that do not meaningfully address the operations and effects of AVs will result in catastrophic impacts on American workers and risk increasing preventable roadside fatalities. The Teamsters are committed to working with Congress and federal regulators on a path forward that prioritizes both workers and safety.”

Peter Finn, President of Teamsters Joint Council 7, added: “As autonomous vehicles continue to wreak havoc on California roads, California’s elected leaders across both sides of the aisle are standing up for this bill because it’s past time we put safety and good jobs first.”

Cole Scandaglia, senior legislative representative and policy advisor for the Teamsters, said: “The general public and those whose work in the transportation industry face an uncertain and dangerous future unless Congress and regulators set concrete rules-of-the-road that address their concerns. Policymakers can’t just blindly defer to those in the AV sector.”

“Allowing autonomous vehicles on the road without human safety operators behind the wheel of each truck is reckless,” said Darrill Collins, freight driver and Teamster member. “Workers deserve a say in how new and developing technology should be used in the workplace. Forcing a bill through the state legislature that would eliminate jobs and jeopardize public safety is not the answer.”

“Moving too quickly to convert our fleets to autonomous trucking is very short-sighted and could result in a severe shortage of trained and capable workers as we investigate what the transition looks like,” added Teamster Cecilia Aguiar-Curry.

Teamster Aaron Issacs, said: “As a professionally trained truck driver of nearly three decades, I’ve seen hundreds of accidents, put out car fires, changed tires for people on the side of the road and pulled people out of the way of highway traffic. These incidents require a trained human operator to respond appropriately. Automated vehicles are not ready to be operated without a properly trained human operator behind the wheel.”

Ian Dickson

Ian Dickson


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