The Impact of Self-driving Cars on Transportation

While it may sound as though self-driving vehicles are a thing of sci-fi movies of the future, their presence on roads today is very much a reality.

Cars without drivers are being tested vigorously by many tech-heavy companies with the hopes of having a fleet of autonomous vehicles on the roads in the next few years. The public isn’t completely sold on the idea of moving vehicles operated by computers alone, but when big business gets involved, it is clear there is a foreseeable future for self-driving cars – and trucks – as a normal part of road users’ everyday lives.

In the transportation industry, specifically in freight, many are excited about the opportunities self-driving technology presents in the space. But with these potential upsides come major shifts in how freight businesses, from manufacturers and customers to freight brokers new and old, operate and generate revenue. Understanding how self-driving cars will impact the transportation industry in the near- and long-term requires an in-depth look at the advantages of the humanless addition to the roadways, alongside the obstacles faced across the board by those involved in the freight and transportation business.

The Advantages of Autonomous Vehicles

Self-driving vehicles offer many advantages not only to individual drivers but to businesses that rely on transporting goods from one point to the next. With autonomous trucks, shippers can utilize off hours overnight to deliver products, creating fewer roadblocks to on-time delivery, like congested roadways that are standard during the day. Similarly, self-driving trucks give some margin back to businesses by way of lowered fuel costs and a reduction in labor expenses. These cost saving components have the potential to increase margins for companies across the board.

In freight, autonomous trucks also offer opportunities to improve business efficiencies and operations throughout. Instead of relying on human drivers, the companies that need to ship goods and the brokers that schedule and manage those shipments from end to end have one less factor to plan around. The transportation of freight already leans heavily on the use of technology to manage most if not all of the moving parts of each transaction; adding self-driving trucks to the mix simply enhances the process further.

Obstacles for the Industry

Although the benefits of autonomous vehicles entering the commercial freight industry sound promising from a bottom line perspective, challenges remain. Self-driving trucks remove truckers from the equation, leaving many without gainful employment and few prospects in different industries. The loss of employment of the nearly 3.5 million truck drivers currently in operation today would have a crippling effect on the economy. Removing the human element from transportation also lends itself to highly debated regulatory issues, from insurance complications to safety regulations. These complex issues have the potential to put other road users at risk.

In addition to removing millions from the workforce, the widespread use of autonomous trucks presents threats from a technology standpoint. The interconnectedness of the computers used to drive the truck alongside the software tools used to manage pickup, driving, and delivery are all as vulnerable to hacks from outside sources as are personal electronic devices. The use of these advanced technologies behind such a large vehicle could be used to cause harm to other road users – a risk some are unwilling to take.

Self-driving trucks are being tested and approved in several areas of the developed world, and while their debut on the roadways is imminent, most experts believe the transition will be gradual at best. The opportunities offered by autonomous trucks must be weighed against the obstacles before the transportation industry will experience vast changes to the way business is done.

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