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Are Self Driving Trucks the Answer to the Driver Shortage Problem?

Two trucks on a foggy road

Driver assisting technology is drawing much attention in the transportation industry. It certainly makes sense why. This technology can revolutionize the industry and potentially solve the ever growing driver shortage problem.

It’s not a lofty thought, either. The trucking technology field is expanding quickly and startups are working to target higher levels of automation and AI. It may be exactly what the trucking industry needs to get a boost.

In the next ten years, trucking companies will need to hire over one million new truck drivers in order to get past the driver shortage issue we are experiencing today. Towards the end of 2020, the industry saw a whopping drop of 60,000 drivers. That number has only steadily grown in the past year, reaching new heights during the coronavirus pandemic.

It's logical then that transportation technology companies have begun working on solutions to this significant problem. It’s very likely that in the future, self-driving trucks will be a bit easier to bring into the mainstream for freeway drivers, rather than urban drivers. The use case for automated trucks is clear and has the potential to help the industry improve its driver shortage problem.

Automated trucks will likely pull in a new group of truck drivers who are interested in the technology, and may be able to help fleets deal with the strict hours-of-service rules while saving money on fuel. On top of that, self-driving trucks could drastically change the rate of accidents and incident fines that drivers experience on the road, as well as the issue of having enough safe parking areas for truck drivers.

According to an interview with The Institute for Workplace Skills and Development CEO Nicholas Wyman, the use of this technology has already been adopted in other industries.

“All jobs are being impacted by technological change - some more than others,” Wyman noted, “Driverless trucks are now used extensively in the mining industry and it's certain this technology will impact other parts of transport and distribution.”

While the context of the interview focused on how automation could cause the loss of jobs with Wyman suggesting that “truck drivers should look for opportunities to refresh and reboot their current skill sets”, the opposite may actually be the case. With an already dwindling supply of good drivers, automation technology and fleet management software could pull in a new group of drivers drawn in by the benefits of this technology.

To put it simply, the whole trucking industry could change for the better with improved systems and software for fleets, drivers, and others involved in the supply chain.

Implementing the Right System

While fully-automated trucks won’t be a common occurrence for quite some time, fleet management software continues to be critical to a transport company's operations. Gone are the days of the archaic, inefficient processes. Now, trucking companies are looking for a more refined technology to improve how their business operates and how drivers work on a day to day basis. Now more than ever companies are looking for software that is quick and easy to implement, is intuitive and has a good overall user experience. Reducing the learning curve and the time it takes to adopt new technologies is key.

Fleet management software can offer drivers a better means of communication between dispatchers and other company employees. It’s also an excellent tool for automating a lot of different tasks, such as planning, fleet dispatch, and driver safety training. In addition, good fleet management software can offer connectivity into other tools for drivers, such as telematics solutions that offer better real-time visibility, and 3rd party applications that can help manage activities like their hours of service. Suffice it to say, good technology results in happier and more productive drivers.

The Bottom Line

While we won’t likely see a shift towards exclusively automated self-driving trucks in the near future, a comprehensive transport management software solution that focuses on improving the  communication with drivers while boosting the overall productivity can help reduce the strain that the driver shortage problem has on the industry.

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