When Can We Expect to See Automated Trucking in the Logistics Industry?

It’s been said that automation will change the very nature of work. We don’t have to look far to see examples of how automated technologies haven’t just supplemented tasks, but overtaken them. You can see the rise of automation as a threat or an enablement (a door to open new types of work for people), but you can’t deny that it’s coming.

The logistics industry is spared no exception. In fact, it’s not a question of if automation will take over, but simply when.

Already, there are companies testing automated trucks for long-haul shipping. The vision? Automate the actual driving required for on-road shipping that occurs across the country. Think about the objective benefits of this for logistics companies: with automated trucking, variables that impact arrival time and heighten risk factors can become near certainties, guaranteeing safe, on-time delivery. Speed is controlled, route is controlled, safe driving practices are controlled…without the need to assign a driver to the route.

So, what will take automated trucking from a vision to a reality?

Like self-driving cars, there needs to be enough on-road testing to warrant federal approval for production. Right now, self-driving truck models are concentrated to a small number of companies, all of which have much more testing to complete. Self-driving cars are still three to four years away from becoming mainstream and hitting the market; given that trucks are much more complicated in build and drive, we can expect they’ll take even longer, and follow a few years after automated cars.

Concurrent with testing will be regulation development. What rules will be put in place to ensure that self-driving trucks are truly safe to share the roads with manned-cars, self-driving cars, or other self-driving trucks? Automated vehicles are completely new territory for federal regulators. While they’ve been working closely with automated car manufacturers to develop regulations, and may apply some of those regulations to self-driving trucks, it’s likely that the regulation process for trucks will still take about one or two years to finalize after testing is complete.

So, we’re looking at about seven to eight years before automated trucks have the regulation greenlight and are ready to take to the road (given a 5-6 year testing period and 1-2 year regulation period). However, that doesn’t mean that the logistics industry will experience immediate disruption at that time. Economists believe it will probably take another five years before self-driving trucks begin impacting industry employment.

That’s because the logistics industry is currently facing a shortage of skilled, licensed truck drivers. This shortage is expected to increase in the next five years, as interest in the career (which has its own unique set of challenges) declines. By 2022, that driver deficit number will reach 240,000. That means that even as self-driving trucks begin hitting the roads, their immediate impact will simply be counteracting the existing driver deficit, rather than cutting into truck driver employment.

Ultimately, expect at least ten years before the logistics industry fully makes a meaningful transition to self-driving trucks. And remember, that’s only if everything associated with development, testing, regulations, and adoption goes exactly according to plan. As with any new technology rollout, there will likely be speedbumps that push this date even farther into the future.


Interested in more articles about what’s happening in logistics? Head on over to the Econo-Courier blog to find out more within the industry.