Automated Trucking:

Federal Agencies Should Take Additional Steps to Prepare for Potential Workforce Effects

GAO-19-161: Published: Mar 7, 2019. Publicly Released: Mar 7, 2019.

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Contact:

Cindy S. Brown Barnes
(202) 512-7215
brownbarnesc@gao.gov

 

Susan A. Fleming
(202) 512-7215
flemings@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

GAO-19-161

What could self-driving trucks mean for hundreds of thousands of the nation's long-haul truck drivers?

We found two possible scenarios:

Long-haul highway driving will be fully automated, resulting in fewer trucking jobs and possibly lower wages, or

Self-driving trucks may still need operators, possibly changing the skillset and wages without significantly affecting the number of trucking jobs

Because widespread use of self-driving trucks is still years to decades away, we recommend that the Departments of Labor and Transportation consult with stakeholders on an ongoing basis to help the agencies analyze and respond to any workforce changes.

Examples of Technologies for Self-Driving Trucks

Figure showing a truck with LIDAR sensors, GPS, cameras, accelerometers and radar

 

Multimedia:

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Cindy S. Brown Barnes
(202) 512-7215
brownbarnesc@gao.gov

 

Susan A. Fleming
(202) 512-7215
flemings@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

Automated trucks, including self-driving trucks, are being developed for long-haul trucking operations, but widespread commercial deployment is likely years or decades away, according to stakeholders. Most technology developers said they were developing trucks that can travel without drivers for part of a route, and some stakeholders said such trucks may become available within 5 to 10 years. Various technologies, including sensors and cameras, could help guide a truck capable of driving itself (see figure). However, the adoption of this technology depends on factors such as technological limitations and public acceptance.

Examples of Automated Vehicle Technologies for Commercial Trucks

Examples of Automated Vehicle Technologies for Commercial Trucks

Stakeholders GAO interviewed predicted two main scenarios for how the adoption of automated trucks could affect the trucking workforce, which varied depending on the future role of drivers or operators. Technology developers, among others, described one scenario in which self-driving trucks are used on highway portions of long-haul trips. Stakeholders noted this scenario would likely reduce the number of long-haul truck drivers needed and could decrease wages because of lower demand for such drivers. In contrast, groups representing truck drivers, among others, predicted a scenario in which a truck would have an operator at all times for complex driving and other non-driving tasks, and the number of drivers or operators would not change as significantly. However, stakeholders lacked consensus on the potential effect this scenario might have on wages and driver retention. Most stakeholders said automated trucking could create new jobs, and that any workforce effects would take time—providing an opportunity for a federal response, such as any needed policy changes.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) is consulting with the Department of Labor (DOL) to conduct a congressionally-directed analysis of the workforce impacts of automated trucking by March 2019. As part of this analysis, DOT and DOL have coordinated to conduct stakeholder outreach. However, they do not currently plan to convene stakeholders on a regular basis to gather information because they have focused on completing this analysis first. Continuing to convene stakeholders could provide the agencies foresight about policy changes that may be needed to prepare for any workforce effects as this technology evolves.

Why GAO Did This Study

Automated vehicle technology may eventually make commercial trucking more efficient and safer, but also has the potential to change the employment landscape for nearly 1.9 million heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers, among others. GAO was asked to examine the potential workforce effects of automated trucking.

This report addresses (1) what is known about how and when automated vehicle technologies could affect commercial trucks; (2) what is known about how the adoption of automated trucks could affect the commercial trucking workforce; and (3) the extent to which DOT and DOL are preparing to assist drivers whose jobs may be affected. GAO reviewed research since 2014 on automated trucking technology, viewed demonstrations of this technology, and analyzed federal data on the truck driver workforce. GAO also interviewed officials from DOT and DOL, as well as a range of stakeholders, including technology developers, companies operating their own trucking fleets, truck driver training schools, truck driver associations, and workforce development boards.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making four recommendations, including that both DOT and DOL should continue to convene key stakeholders as the automated trucking technology evolves to help the agencies analyze and respond to potential workforce changes that may result. DOT and DOL agreed with the recommendations.

For more information, contact Cindy S. Brown Barnes or Susan A. Fleming, (202) 512-7215 or brownbarnesc@gao.gov or flemings@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: DOL agreed with this recommendation. The agency noted several efforts that it said will help the agency assess and provide information on the potential workforce effects of evolving technologies, such as automated trucking. For example, DOL noted that the agency's employment projections incorporate expert interviews and other information to identify shifts in industry employment. DOL is also currently consulting with DOT to study these workforce effects, and agreed to consider what other information and stakeholder meetings remain necessary after that study-due in March 2019-is completed. Likewise, DOL agreed to share related information as the technology evolves, and the agency noted it currently publishes employment projections and other occupational information. While useful, these efforts alone will not allow DOL to sufficiently anticipate the future workforce effects of automated trucking. For instance, the broad employment projections do not provide estimates specifically for the long-haul truck drivers who could be affected by automated trucking first. Further, DOL's occupational information is based on surveys of current workers, so it does not include the skills future drivers will need as automated trucking evolves. Therefore, we continue to believe that convening stakeholders and sharing information about potential workforce effects in the future will position DOL to better understand and inform key stakeholders of these changes.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Labor should collaborate with the Secretary of Transportation to continue to convene key groups of stakeholders to gather information on potential workforce changes that may result from automated trucking as the technology evolves, including analyzing needed skills and identifying any information or data gaps, to allow the agencies to fully consider how to respond to any changes. These stakeholders could include, for example, representatives of other relevant federal agencies, technology developers, the trucking industry, organizations that represent truck drivers, truck driver training schools, state workforce agencies, and local workforce development boards. (Recommendation 1)

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: DOT agreed with this recommendation. We will monitor the agency's progress to address it.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should collaborate with the Secretary of Labor to continue to convene key groups of stakeholders to gather information on potential workforce changes that may result from automated trucking as the technology evolves, including analyzing needed skills and identifying any information or data gaps, to allow the agencies to fully consider how to respond to any changes. These stakeholders could include, for example, representatives of other relevant federal agencies, technology developers, the trucking industry, organizations that represent truck drivers, truck driver training schools, state workforce agencies, and local workforce development boards. (Recommendation 2)

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: DOT agreed with this recommendation. The agency noted two of its current efforts related to automated trucking technology, namely its October 2018 automated vehicles voluntary guidance, Preparing for the Future of Transportation: Automated Vehicles 3.0, and its Congressionally-directed research on the impact of automated vehicle technologies on the workforce.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should consult with the Secretary of Labor to further analyze the potential effects of automated trucking technology on drivers to inform potential workforce-related regulatory changes, such as the requirements to obtain a commercial driver's license or hours of service requirements (e.g., the maximum hours commercial truck drivers are permitted to work). This could include leveraging the analysis described by the Explanatory Statement accompanying the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 once it is complete, as well as information the department obtains from stakeholders as the technology evolves. (Recommendation 3)

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: DOL agreed with this recommendation. The agency noted several efforts that it said will help the agency assess and provide information on the potential workforce effects of evolving technologies, such as automated trucking. For example, DOL noted that the agency's employment projections incorporate expert interviews and other information to identify shifts in industry employment. DOL is also currently consulting with DOT to study these workforce effects, and agreed to consider what other information and stakeholder meetings remain necessary after that study-due in March 2019-is completed. Likewise, DOL agreed to share related information as the technology evolves, and the agency noted it currently publishes employment projections and other occupational information. While useful, these efforts alone will not allow DOL to sufficiently anticipate the future workforce effects of automated trucking. For instance, the broad employment projections do not provide estimates specifically for the long-haul truck drivers who could be affected by automated trucking first. Further, DOL's occupational information is based on surveys of current workers, so it does not include the skills future drivers will need as automated trucking evolves. Therefore, we continue to believe that convening stakeholders and sharing information about potential workforce effects in the future will position DOL to better understand and inform key stakeholders of these changes.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Labor should consult with the Secretary of Transportation to share information with key stakeholders on the potential effects of automated trucking on the workforce as the technology evolves. These stakeholders could include, for example, representatives of other relevant federal agencies, technology developers, the trucking industry, organizations that represent truck drivers, truck driver training schools, state workforce agencies, and local workforce development boards. (Recommendation 4)

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

 

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