Governments must consider ways to manage the transition to driverless trucks to avoid potential social disruption from job losses, says a new report published by the International Transport Forum (ITF), France.

The research reveals that self-driving trucks can help save costs, lower emissions, make roads safer and address the shortage of professional drivers.

On the other hand though, automated trucks could reduce the demand for drivers by 50-70% in the United States and Europe by 2030, with up to 4.4 million of the projected 6.4 million professional trucking jobs becoming redundant, according to one scenario.

Even if the rise of driverless trucks dissuades newcomers from trucking, over 2 million drivers in the United States and Europe could be directly displaced, according to scenarios examined for the report.

The report makes four recommendations to help manage the transition to driverless road freight:

  • Establish a transition advisory board to advise on labor issues.
  • Consider a temporary permit system to manage the speed of adoption.
  • Set international standards, road rules and vehicle regulations for self-driving trucks.
  • Continue pilot projects with driverless trucks to test vehicles, network technology and communications protocols.

These recommendations were agreed jointly by organizations representing truck manufacturers, truck operators and transport workers’ unions, under the auspices of an intergovernmental organization.

The report was prepared jointly by the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA), Belgium, the International Transport Workers’ Federation, UK, and the International Road Transport Union (IRU), Switzerland.

“Driverless trucks could be a regular presence on many roads within the next 10 years,” says José Viegas, secretary-general of ITF, an intergovernmental organization of 57 member countries that acts as a policy think tank for the transportation industry.Self-driving trucks already operate in controlled environments like ports or mines. Trials on public roads are under way in many regions, including the United States and the European Union. Manufacturers are investing heavily into automation, and many governments are actively reviewing their regulations. Preparing now for potential negative social impact of job losses will mitigate the risks in case a rapid transition occurs.”

“Harmonization of rules across countries is critical for maximizing the gains from driverless truck technology,” says Erik Jonnaert, secretary general of the ACEA, an advocate for the automobile industry in Europe, representing the 15 major manufacturers of cars, trucks, vans and buses. “Automated trucks are clearly not a national issue, as they should be able to move smoothly across borders. We need international standards, legislation and processes to obtain exemptions from road rules that are appropriate for self-driving trucks. Otherwise we risk having a patchwork of rules and regulations, which could hinder manufacturers and road users from investing in automated vehicles.”

“Autonomous trucks will bring many benefits to society, from cost savings and lower emissions to safer roads. Autonomous vehicles will also help the haulage sector deal with the current shortage of drivers in many parts of the world,” adds Christian Labrot, president of IRU, the global industry association for road transport, representing truck, bus, coach and taxi operators. “However, we have to remember the dedicated drivers of today will need to be retrained tomorrow, and we must keep attracting professionals into road transport. We all need to work together for a smooth transition to driverless technology.”

"Automation in trucking demands a managed and just transition,” says Steve Cotton, general secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation. “We strongly welcome the report's recommendation that trade unions must be part of any such process. We must avoid excessive hardship for truck drivers and ensure the gains from the technology are fairly shared across society. Self-driving trucks threaten to disrupt the careers and lives of millions of professional truck drivers. This report is a timely investigation into how that transition could happen. Its recommendations will help governments to ensure a just transition for affected drivers.”