In a report last year, analysts at Goldman Sachs Economics Research said that as many as 3.1 million U.S. truck driving jobs (all sizes, not just big rigs) are at risk from self-driving trucks. That’s about 2% of all U.S. jobs.
U.S. truck drivers could see jobs disappear at a rate of about 25,000 a month as autonomous vehicles become more mainstream. The switch won’t happen immediately, but slowly over the next decade, according to the Goldman Sachs report.
That’s the future. The story today is much different, at least according to a trucking industry group. Last October, the American Trucking Associations estimated that the current supply of truck driving jobs is 48,000 drivers short of the demand. By 2025, the association says, the shortage will rise to 175,000 drivers.
Which will it be? Fewer truck driving jobs because drivers have been replaced with self-driving vehicles or fewer driving jobs because no one wants them?
Researchers at Global Policy Solutions issued a report in March 2017 that gives context to the expected job losses:
More than four million jobs will likely be lost with a rapid transition to autonomous vehicles. Driving occupations, including delivery and heavy truck drivers, bus drivers, and taxi and chauffeur drivers, would be heaviest hit. Driving occupations represent a significant source of work for those with lower levels of educational attainment, with the vast majority (93.2 percent) of workers in these jobs possessing less than a bachelor’s degree. Workers in driving occupations have a poverty rate (7.32 percent) lower than the overall workforce (8.06 percent) and non-driving occupations alone (8.08 percent), which suggests that driving jobs are by and large “good jobs” that keep workers in driving occupations out of poverty.
Before leaving office in 2017, the Obama White House published a report titled “Artificial Intelligence, Automation, and the Economy.” It is no longer available at the WhiteHouse.gov website, but an archived version is available.
According to the report, there were about 1.7 million U.S. heavy and semi truck drivers in 2015. The study reported that between 1.3 million and all 1.7 million jobs are threatened by autonomous trucks. The report noted that the change “may take years or decades to occur because there will be a further lag between technological possibility and widespread adoption.”
There were a total of 3.72 million driving jobs in the United States in 2015. This included everything from semi drivers to chauffeurs. Self-driving vehicles threaten between 2.2 million and 3.1 million of those jobs. The report also noted that truck and delivery service drivers “currently enjoy a wage premium over others in the labor market with the same level of educational attainment. They may not be able to regain this wage premium if displaced without intervention to help them re-skill.”
The only disagreement on the loss of truck driving jobs is over when the self-driving trucks will become widely available. Five years may be too short a time, but 10 to 15 years is not out of the question.