The Impact of Driverless Technology On the Haulage Industry

When insiders talk of so-called self-driving cars, the terms they use speak to just how autonomous a vehicle is. The range starts with driver control; the next step is assisted driving; then partial autonomy, high autonomy and full autonomy.

It’s no surprise that it’s all moving rather fast, but at the moment the real players in commercial autonomous vehicles are developing their tech in the assisted-driving-to-partial-autonomy space. Some systems are automated – handy self-parking, for example, and lane assist features that keep you from veering left or right unsafely – but the cars do not drive themselves. The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers predicts, however, that by the year 2040 up to 75 per cent of all vehicles will be fully autonomous.

Driverless technology: change of the fundamental kind

The changes this will engender are rife and felt nowhere more keenly than by the global haulage industry. This presents as the single most important proposition facing its decision-makers and workers in the long term.

The US, with its vast interstate highway system, is a salient example: the labour savings for haulage and transportation will be vast. To ship a full truckload from the west coast to the east coast can cost $4,500, and three-quarters of that is labour.

The level of projected cost savings from investing in a fleet of autonomous trucks is also rooted in the fact that American drivers are restricted by law from driving more than eleven hours per day without taking an eight-hour break. Plus, the fuel-efficiency savings introduced by autonomous trucks driving at an optimal speed will be substantial; humans tend to drive much faster than a fuel-efficient 45 mph.

Game-changing cost savings

Additional fuel efficiencies will come from platooning technologies, such as Peloton Technology, whereby trucks draft in behind one another in a convoy. The impact of industry-wide sleepless, driverless trucks travelling nigh 24 hours a day could double the output of the entire US transportation network at a quarter of the present cost.

No going back

A host of legal, regulatory and insurance industry considerations will need to be examined and resolved in each jurisdiction that commercial haulage takes place, but the potential rewards are enormous, especially for those who shoulder the initial capital outlay. Being first to leverage newly legitimised technology can be rather lucrative.

There is no denying the impending structural changes in industry and employment, especially in economies dependent on traditional vehicles. At very serious risk are the jobs of 1.6 million American drivers, as much a 1 per cent of the entire US workforce, and the associated economies of petrol stations, rest stops, motels, diners and all manner of businesses that support a human being driving, resting and eating.

Menzies Partner Mark Perrin is Head of Transport and Logistics sector team. For more information on the impact of driverless technology or about our services, please contact Mark by email or by phone on 01489 566702.

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Posted in Blog, Technology, Transport & logistics