Autonomous vehicles have officially been given the green light in the UK, and trials of autonomous lorries are now in the pipeline with 8.1 million of funding from the government, according to Sky News. This comes as no surprise to the UK which already has vehicles on the roads that operate with semi-autonomous driving systems, from cruise control and lane departure warning to active park assist. But as the government funds further developments, we could see them on our roads sooner than we think.
The government’s funding will go towards paying for semi-autonomous platooning lorries, which are said to be amongst the first autonomous vehicles to be rolled out across the UK. These platoons will be driven closely behind one another and linked via electronic connections which communicate with GPS, radar and wi-fi. By reducing the gaps between the vehicles, it’s said to reduce air drag, cut fuel consumption and reduce emissions, potentially by 20%. But what does an autonomous fleet of lorries mean for UK truck and lorry drivers?
Specialists in van lease, Northgate, investigates if self-driving vehicles signal a major loss of jobs, due to the driver essentially being taken away from the process.
If autonomous technology is successful, human driving could be eliminated in the future – meaning many of our drivers could be faced with a dead end in their career. In the US alone, it is predicted that there could be up to 25,000 jobs lost a month, according to Goldman Sachs. With truck driving one of the most common occupations in the US, that figure could turn into over 300,000 job losses per year. In the UK, low-end estimates suggest that over 1.7 million truckers could also be replaced by self-driving counterparts – which could rise to as high at 3 million, suggesting many could rid their manual drivers of their jobs.
Some companies are ahead of the UK with autonomous developments – such as Google, which has already trialled and recorded several miles in self-driving vehicles, and Einride which has already developed its own self-driving truck, that will be ready for 2020, and it does not have space for the human driver or even passengers. The all-electric T-Pod truck measures approximately seven metres, can carry up to 20 tonnes in weight of freight and is fully autonomous. All it needs to do now is to incorporate a component like this semi trailer landing gear mechanism, and the ability to connect and separate trailers that you are carrying on the back of your truck has never been easier. This could be particularly useful if you are carrying loads that weigh up to 20 tonnes. The vehicle is capable of self-drive on motorways and highways, and can be controlled remotely at a driving station for urban areas. Some professionals have aired their optimistic opinion that the technology could actually create jobs for people. Just as automobiles created millions of jobs, it is suggested that autonomous vehicles will do the same – though, they might be different to those jobs that face a loss. The UK aims to be at the forefront of development of autonomous alternatives and predicts that acting as a world leader in the sector will boost the UK’s economy. The SMMT valued autonomous cars and the systems that connect them to the internet as being worth 51 billion a year to the UK economy by 2030. Success in the field could also see around 320,000 jobs created.
Additionally, drivers will need to form semi-autonomous platooning lorry convoys – a lead driver is likely to be essential to the process that the government proposes. For lorries to follow safely, a lead driver will likely be needed to navigate the first lorry – and of course, there are likely to be jobs created to build new road infrastructure required for autonomous vehicles.
The job loss and shortage is expected to be temporary, however, do the benefits outweigh this setback? We must remember that this could just be temporary, and that autonomous technology will also improve road safety and reduce harmful emissions, too. In the US alone, there are over 350,000 road accidents a year involving trucks, with the majority of these traced back to human error. Similarly, with the UK, there were over 1,810 incidents in 2016 where someone was killed or fatally injured in a road traffic accident. Autonomous vehicles eliminate human error on the roads to make them a safer place.