With not enough technicians and drivers in the trucking industry today, what will this advanced technology mean to companies?
We all know that it’s just a matter of time before driverless trucks become a reality on the road in more than just an experimental mode. Will the roads become safer? Possibly. Will carriers reduce costs with new fuel efficiency capabilities? Likely. Will shippers be able to get their product to its destination faster because driverless trucks may force a renewed look at HOS rules? That’s anyone’s guess. But here’s the real problem that needs to be addressed….who is going to fix these vehicles when they break down or even when they’re regularly scheduled for maintenance…and who is going to “drive” them?
We’re already aware that one of the biggest problems facing our industry today is the shortage of drivers and qualified technicians. Now add a new complex technology into the mix and you complicate the issue even more. This is one of the drawbacks to technology that outpaces an industry’s ability to use, and in fact, optimize it. As an industry, we are going to have to ensure that vocational and technical schools are up-to-date on the latest technology. OEMs are going to have to work with fleets and leasing companies to make sure that their technicians understand how to fix the vehicles. When updates and upgrades occur, which always happens in the digital universe, technicians are going to have to receive the information immediately and simultaneously. Long-haul carriers have additional questions that deserve answers. If your driverless truck experiences a breakdown in a remote area, will your roadside assistance provider have a tech knowledgeable about autonomous trucks? How much additional downtime will occur as your driver waits for an experienced technician, and what will that cost your bottom line? Plus, what is all this going to cost in terms of training existing techs and drivers?
And what about drivers? Will they still maintain the attention that’s necessary to ensure safety, or might they become complacent and assume that the truck’s “brain” will take care of everything, especially in a difficult, unexpected situation? That’s like an airline pilot depending solely on the Automatic Pilot in the middle of a storm. You still need an experienced hand if trouble occurs. If any of these trucks has a problem that used to be a simple fix for drivers, will it still be fixable by non-technicians? These are all serious questions that need to be asked as we begin to upgrade our fleets.
Technology and progress march on; driverless trucks and cars are inevitable; and eventually, we will tackle the labor issue. But in the meantime, we need to find new and better ways to recruit and train the people we need the most today, and into the future.