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Are Self-Driving Trucks a Boon or Bust for Company Fleets?

August 26, 2019

For anyone paying attention to recent developments, it’s hard not to talk about self-driving vehicles. Reactions tend to fall into one of two camps: those who are excited about this new technology and those who are terrified of it. Will self-driving cars lead to horrific accidents? Is the government prepared to regulate self-driving vehicles? Will self-driving trucks completely eliminate whole careers from the market?

The reality of the situation is much more mundane, but still exciting for businesses. The fact of the matter is that technology has been in company fleets for years now, and that it’s having a huge positive effect for companies who use it right.

It seems that self-driving vehicles may be an unavoidable reality. Pioneers like Elon Musk are even suggesting that they may be available to consumers by the end of 2019. The introduction of these vehicles brings with it many questions that both consumers and businesses will have to answer.

Will Self-Driving Trucks Replace Drivers?

The answer seems simple. A self-driving truck, by definition, does not need a driver. It drives itself. However, the reality is likely to be a little more complicated for at least the foreseeable future. There are a great number of reasons that drivers shouldn’t fear replacement any time soon. Here are just a few.

Regulatory Confusion

Companies that maintain fleets are subject to strict regulatory oversight from the Department of Transportation. At this time, it’s unclear how self-driving trucks fit into the broader regulatory picture since many rules have yet to be written.

As of the end of last year, 19 states still have not enacted any form of legislation related to autonomous vehicles. Many have instead adopted a wait and see attitude, and are not currently prepared for this new technology to hit our roadways.

It is, however, reasonable to assume that we’ll start to see more laws about self-driving vehicles as the technology becomes more widespread. For the time being, it’s safer for many companies to simply navigate the known regulatory waters, rather than test the tolerance of the Department of Transportation.

Mixed Public Reception

In 2017, Pew Research found that more Americans were worried about self-driving cars than were enthusiastic about them. As with any brand new piece of technology, these numbers are likely to change quickly in the face of new developments. After all, we’ve seen this sort of technophobia in the past. When they were new, people feared trains, the telegraph, telephones, radio, television, computers, and just about every other sort of technology we now take for granted.

But even though this fear is to be expected, and expected to be short-lived, it shouldn’t be dismissed. Companies that dive headfirst into automated trucks will likely have to contend with potential public backlash. This should place some incentive on businesses to stick with human drivers for their fleets.

How Technology Enters the Workplace

It’s not just self-driving trucks — all over the world people are worried about jobs being taken by robots. And it seems no profession is immune. Even some of the most highly skilled workers in the job market are concerned.

The truth is, technology has revamped the workforce time and time again throughout history. Waves of technological change come and go, but this image of robots as swooping in overnight to steal jobs just doesn’t make sense. This is especially true when you consider the way that technology actually enters the workplace.

The fact of the matter is that, when new technology enters a business, it doesn’t replace employees. Instead, it helps employees to do their tasks more efficiently and with fewer distractions. Truck drivers already know this very well, since mobile technology has found its way into company fleets, freeing drivers up from worry about maintenance, data tracking, and other mundane tasks, all while making their jobs safer and more efficient.

Not only that, fears of technology replacing drivers often ignore the current state of affairs. The fact of the matter is, technology is already sitting in the driver’s seat in many commercial vehicles. Artificial intelligence, for example, is helping to identify risky driver behavior and improve safety. When technology enters vehicles, it doesn’t replace drivers — it helps them do their jobs better.

The Human Touch

While someday in the distant future, some types of fleets could feasibly be 100% automated, there are other driving jobs that still require a human touch. A robot may be sufficient to transport goods from one location to another. But a human is needed to deliver service. Plumbing, pest control, HVAC, landscaping, and other service technicians are still far beyond the reach of even the most ambitious AI projects. And almost any sort of service company that deals directly with consumers is unlikely to go completely automated as long as a majority of the public prefers the human touch.

How Technology Already Affects Commercial Drivers

For all this worry that computers or robots will soon be sitting in the driver’s seat, the fact of the matter is that technology already has a huge role to play in corporate fleets. You may be picturing in your mind a man made of metal taking over the jobs of truckers and couriers across the country, but that’s not a very realistic concept.

You may not realize it, but technology is driving fleets across the country today. Global positioning systems (GPS), artificial technology, dash cams, and e-logging software are already out on our roads en masse. Here are just a few of the benefits advanced tech has brought to drivers and fleets.

Driver Safety

Fleet tracking software lets companies stay on top of every asset in a fleet at all times. This means that when a driver is headed toward dangerous road conditions, technology can reroute them onto safer routes. And should the worst happen and a driver is involved in an accident, this technology is aware immediately and can report details of the problem, even if the driver is unconscious. This makes it easier for help to reach a stranded vehicle in case of an emergency, saving vital time in locating and rescuing a driver in danger.

Improved Accountability

Dashcams are becoming more and more common in today’s commercial vehicles. While some may worry that big brother is watching, this simple and effective technology is often on the driver’s side. Yes, dash cams can help to keep drivers accountable when they exhibit dangerous or risky behavior and provide material that can be reviewed for safety training. But they also can stand as a witness in the event of an accident, proving that the driver’s account was accurate. They can also help to appease insurance providers since it allows them to process claims more quickly, and in some cases may even lower insurance premiums.

Streamlining Compliance

If you’re a driver, you probably chose this job because you enjoy some aspect of it. It could be the changing scenery, pay, flexibility, job security, or just the feeling of being out on the open road. But one thing it probably isn’t: paperwork.

Paperwork is a necessary evil in many professions, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be streamlined or eliminated altogether by computers. Technologies like e-logging help to free up a driver’s time, allowing them to focus more on driving and less on mundane log keeping.