business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

The questionable panacea of self-driving cars has gotten a lot of media attention, but the Los Angeles Times over the weekend had a story that took it sone step farther, reporting that "trucks without human hands at the wheel could be on American roads within a decade, say analysts and industry executives."

Here's how the Times frames the story:

"On Sept. 20, the Obama administration put its weight behind automated driving, for the first time releasing federal guidelines for the systems. About a dozen states already created laws that allow for the testing of self-driving vehicles. But the federal government, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, will ultimately have to set rules to safely accommodate 80,000-pound autonomous trucks on U.S. highways."

Wait a minute. Let's highlight just one part of that passage:

80,000-pound autonomous trucks on U.S. highways.

Okay, let's move on. The Times story continues:

"In doing so, the feds have placed a bet that driverless cars and trucks will save lives. But autonomous big rigs, taxis and Ubers also promise to lower the cost of travel and transporting goods.

"It would also be the first time that machines take direct aim at an entire class of blue-collar work in America. Other workers who do things you may think cannot be done by robots — like gardeners, home builders and trash collectors — may be next."

And it goes on:

"Trucking will likely be the first type of driving to be fully automated – meaning there’s no one at the wheel. One reason is that long-haul big rigs spend most of their time on highways, which are the easiest roads to navigate without human intervention.
But there’s also a sweeter financial incentive for automating trucks. Trucking is a $700-billion industry, in which a third of costs go to compensating drivers."

In fact, a test has been taking place:

"For the last several months, at least one Volvo truck equipped with the software has been test driving, with a person at the wheel, on Interstate 280 or on the 101 Freeway in California."

Now, I'm all in favor of progress. I'm a little concerned about all those truck drivers losing their jobs ... though not all that worried about some of the truck drivers I see every year when I drive my Mustang cross-country between Connecticut and Oregon, who make me think of Steven Spielberg's first movie Duel.

I just keep coming back to the idea of 80,000-pound autonomous trucks on U.S. highways, which just sounds like a really, really bad idea. It also sounds like the concept behind Michael Bay's next movie, unless Joel Schumacher gets to it first.

Eighty thousand pound autonomous trucks on U.S. highways? Yeah, that'll be an Eye-Opener.
KC's View: