Autonomous vehicles will be part of the long-haul trucking industry’s future, but a group of leading manufacturers and developers have asked Californian lawmakers to relax regulations that relate to testing self-driving trucks on public roads now. In an open letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom, the companies said that their attempts to both harness innovation and provide a solution to the skills gap within the trucking industry were being “explicitly prohibited” by the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.
According to Fast Company, the group – which includes Waymo, Uber, Volvo and Aurora – is concerned that autonomous semi-trucks and delivery vehicles that weigh more than 10,001 pounds are unable to be effectively tested on California’s roads and highways. The Golden State has a global reputation for tech innovation, the authors of the letter said, and the evolution of autonomous trucks is being impacted by an inability to prove their value on crucial transportation links within the supply chain.
“Without regulations to permit this technology, California is at risk of losing our competitive edge,” the letter said. “As the industry deploys new pilot programs, builds critical infrastructure, and creates the 21st century jobs California’s businesses need to grow, investment is limited to other states that allow deployment of autonomous trucks. In effect, it has been ten years since the initial 2012 enabling legislation, and over this period, there has been no movement for autonomous trucking regulation.”
The future of trucking
Citing research from the Silicon Valley Leadership Group Foundation, the letter went on to point out the financial benefits of autonomous trucking technology and the growing shortage of experienced truck drivers. By addressing this regulatory stalemate, California could not only expect to see an additional $6.5 billion in economic activity but also play a significant role in reducing the number of truck-related incidents that happen on American highways.
Irrespective of the fact that this letter to Governor Newsom could be seen as self-serving, there is a defined need for the trucking industry to take advantage of the latest tech innovations. Back in October 2021, the American Trucking Associations predicted that there would be a shortfall of around 160,000 drivers by 2030, with the pool of available and experienced truckers shrinking dramatically in recent years.
And while autonomous trucks have long been seen as the answer to the stresses that humans endure behind the wheel, there are some well-publicized concerns that using artificial intelligence in an operational domain such as a highway or urban environment could be a danger to public safety. There is also the question of job displacement within the supply chain itself, but drivers would still be involved in the process. However, their role would likely to be more supervisory and related to taking over when the truck reached, for example, a transfer hub or distribution facility.
In fact, a recently released study cited by Axios said that up to 90% of highway trucking could be done by autonomous vehicles in the not-so-distant future. As an added bonus, the physical strain that long-haul truck driving has on the human body would be alleviated, with the expectation being that the industry would be become more attractive to people who prefer not to drive hundreds of thousands of miles a year.