Over two million truck driving jobs face being wiped out in a dozen years as driverless trucks become the industry standard, a new study finds.
The research - which has sign off from both the global road transport industry and the international union of truck drivers - found that the shift to driverless trucks could throw millions of truckies out of work by 2030.
Automated trucks appeal to haulage firms and governments because they enable cost savings, cut exhaust emissions and make roads safer. On current projections there are not enough professional drivers to meet industry demands of around 6.4 million drivers in Europe and the US in the next decade.
The self-driving machines would help the industry cover that shortage while at the same time directly displacing the jobs of over 2 million drivers by 2030.
The report, released at the International Transport Forum (ITF) summit in the German city of Leipzig, urges countries to adopt common measures to ease the transition to a driverless freight industry so that the social impact of heavy job losses is blunted. These include an advisory board to deal with labour issues, a permit system to manage the speed of transition and common international standards for road rules and vehicle regulations.
Jose Viegas, secretary-general of the forum, a Paris-based agency linked to the OECD, said that driverless trucks could become a "regular presence" on roads in the next 10 years. Ports and mines used the vehicles and trials on public roads were underway in Europe and North America.
"Preparing now for the potential negative social impact of job losses will mitigate the risks in case a rapid transition occurs," he said.
Steve Cotton, general secretary of the International Transport Workers Federation, which represents over 4.5 million transport workers, said he welcomed the report's recommendation that unions be involved in managing the shift to a global driverless fleet.
"We must avoid excessive hardship for truck drivers and ensure that the gains from the technology are fairly shared across society," Cotton said.
Self-driving trucks threatened the careers and lives of millions of professional drivers, Cotton said. The ITF recommendations would "help ensure a just transition for affected drivers."
The report, Managing the Transition to Driverless Freight Transport, Identifies the global trucking industry as the next big target of technological disruption.
Preparing now for the potential negative social impact of job losses will mitigate the risks in case a rapid transition occurs.
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The document accepts that while a lot of research is still needed before fully open road driverless operations begin "such technology is at least a realistic prospect in coming decades."
The US state of Nevada has been trialling automated rigs In Nevada which limit the driver's input to changing lanes and emergency stops. Otherwise the truck handles itself.
The ITF study points out that costs are a big part of the push to automate the industry with labour in Europe accounting for up to 40 per cent of freight operating costs. With long distance operations and driving restrictions limiting the time an operator can be at the wheel, any measure which slashes labour costs while keeping the truck on the road is appealing to the freight industry.
The report notes: "The possibility of dramatically reducing labour input costs and relaxing the driving-time constraints on vehicle productivity would be of great interest to road freight businesses and their ultimate customers.
"More broadly driverless truck technology offers the possibility for improved safety, fuel efficiency, asset utilisation and environmental performance."