Impacts to Jobs
Concerns have been voiced that truck, bus and taxi drivers are among the workers facing an uncertain future as automation comes to market. How can they be reintegrated into the workforce if they see their jobs eliminated?
To start, the transition to automation will not happen overnight, so we have time to prepare for the disruption automated vehicles will cause. Even if the technology were available today, it takes time and capital for fleets to turn over to use it. As a result, some of the workforce issues will be mitigated by attrition – retirement or natural job transitions. As the prevalence of automated vehicles accelerates, however, we will ultimately need new training programs for those impacted by the transition.
In addition to drivers, the shift to a driverless and crash-less transportation system will also impact car repair shops and emergency rooms – both of which get cars and people back on the road. If there are fewer crashes, we’ll need fewer car repair shops and emergency room personnel, especially trauma personnel. While those in the medical field will always be in demand, mechanics and drivers may need retraining, and programs will need to be developed to support retraining activities. Even the insurance industry could be impacted, with less demand for car insurance claims inspectors and adjusters.
The primary goal of automated vehicles is to reduce crashes, thereby saving lives. Advances in technology always come with an impact on jobs – both positive and negative. While we need to be conscious of these impacts, we also need to focus on the ultimate goal.
Ensuring Safety and Trustworthiness
These connected- and automated-vehicle systems promise a myriad of benefits, including safety. However, there are still safety and operational kinks to be addressed.
One example is the tragic fatality of a Florida man in an autonomous vehicle last year. The loss of life is never acceptable, and this event seemed to shift the conversation in a way the industry hadn’t seen over the past few years: a focus on the need for slightly better oversight of the technology and how it’s both implemented by the manufacturer and used by the operator. One original equipment manufacturer even publicly declared the logic in their vehicles would be designed to save passengers in their vehicles above all else.
This commitment to safety is the kind of mindset the industry needs to have, and we need to ensure we include privacy, insurance and policy as part of technical discussions. Additionally, we need to be open about how we move from research and development to actual operations. If more automated vehicle developers are open about things like operations history, the industry builds public trust.
Embracing the Change
As we approach this transportation revolution, it is important the public understands both the benefits of automated vehicles and the changes to American life they should expect. Our infrastructure will significantly change once widespread adoption takes place, with improved lane capacity and potentially more development space in urban areas. And while many of our nation’s workers may anticipate displacement, the industry’s gradual evolution affords opportunity for professional growth and new careers.
Most importantly, safety will continue to be the key industry driver. As these automated systems advance, we move toward our ultimate goal – zero traffic fatalities nationwide.
Greg Krueger, PE, is Program Director for Emerging Technologies in Transportation and Associate VP for HNTB Corporation, and Chairman of the Committee on Intelligent Transportation Systems of the Transportation Research Board.