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The Brave New World of Driverless Lorries

Mar 31, 2016

Self-driving lorries to be tested on roads. 

Trucks and lorries have been a mainstay of industry and commerce for many decades, offering employment to large numbers of people from all corners of the globe. However, as we surge ever-forward into the heady and exciting days of the 21st century, technology is developing at a truly astonishing exponential rate. This means, to some controversy, that the days of vehicles being driven by humans may one day become an antiquated and forgotten method of moving goods across countries and continents.

Development has gone well beyond the theoretical stage for some time now and self-driving prototypes are even being tested on roads and motorways as far afield as Germany and California. Indeed, the UK government has recently given the green light for trials here in Britain.

Driverless lorries will divide opinion

The prospect of driverless trucks and lorries is, without a doubt, a matter that will divide opinion. As with any technological advancement of this significance, there are those who will wholeheartedly embrace change and those who will steadfastly refuse to move with the times and lament over the gone days of old. Yet these neo-Luddites can certainly make one convincing argument in their favour: the impact on employment. Superficially, at least, this argument appears to hold weight. If companies replace their human-operated trucks and lorries with automated self-driving vehicles, this could spell disaster for thousands upon thousands of truck drivers who would surely find themselves out of employment.

Cost Benefit

Ultimately, in the future, the viability of these new trucks will be determined by a cost-benefit analysis. While it is true that some projections suggest that the costs of trucking could be halved by eliminating the need to pay wages, provide air-conditioning and allow for regular rest stops, these new self-driving lorries are far from the finished article and the full cost of this new technology may for some time making them more of a cost-inefficient novelty than a practical means of transport that would render obsolete the existing multitudes of truck fleets already on the road.

Safety Concerns

Furthermore, the safety concerns are of paramount importance. While the trials thus far have gone well, governments will have to vet and rigorously test these new vehicles to the highest standards before allowing them on our roads. One would expect that this process will be lengthy and incremental. The relevant legislation and development of the protocol that will first be required before these trucks become commercially available is undoubtedly still a long way away. Significant PR work to assuage concern may also be required for the general public to become accepting of this new reality, which can be expected to further delay progress.

Delaying the inevitable

However, while these roadblocks may be in place for the time being, a forward-thinking and technologically progressive individual is surely justified in suspecting that these concerns and processes are only delaying the inevitable.

The argument that what's good for business is also good for society is something else to take into account: by reducing costs and improving efficiency, companies can develop and expand their enterprise, thereby creating a zero-sum game wherein that which is lost in one area is balanced out by new employment opportunities in another.

For those currently working as lorry drivers, there is really no need for concern here - as already mentioned, we are some distance away from approaching the point at which this development will have any potential to threaten employment. Drivers are in high demand, and this will not change in the foreseeable future.

The Brave New World of Driverless Lorries