Are Self-Driving Trucks the Future of Transportation?

Tony Coutsoftides

Since Daimler’s announcement that they successfully piloted a self-driving truck through Nevada, people in transportation have been talking about how this might affect the industry. As an owner of a logistics company, I have been asked this question several times, so I thought I’d share my opinion.

It is way too soon to know how self-driving trucks will affect transportation. There are too many unanswered questions.

The current “self-driving” trucks still require drivers to be in them, so this technology is not to the point where it will help with the driver shortage. The proposed benefit is that drivers who are not actually driving will be less fatigued at the wheel, so it would be safer. It will be interesting to see if research proves this hypothesis to be true since many people find they become more fatigued just riding in a vehicle than when they are actually engaged in driving it.

If this technology is going to work anywhere, it will be out on the open road – across the plains or deserts where there is very little traffic. But I don’t foresee it negating the need for drivers in more congested areas, or during pick-up and delivery. I’m not convinced any technology will allow a truck to pull into shipping docks, especially those that are filled with other trucks and are narrow and hard to maneuver. At least not in the near future.

Cost is a huge factor to be considered. What is the cost difference between a standard truck and a driverless truck? Maintaining these systems would most likely require people with additional training because of the immense amount of technology involved. If these trucks were to eventually pilot themselves through traffic-dense areas, it seems to me that they would almost need designated lanes, something the current transportation infrastructure can’t support.

I don’t feel threatened by this new technology, it’s actually very intriguing. And I would love to see an end to the driver shortage as much as anyone else. But just as the possibilities are endless, at this point so are the questions.