Trucking has been an opportunity for Black workers who have faced racial barriers to other blue collar jobs — Black, Hispanic, and Native American workers are now overrepresented in transportation.
No one really knows what Tesla’s new automated truck means for black truckers and their jobs.
There are several schools of thought — one, that little will change for decades, and another, that change is right around the corner.
Trucks carry 70 percent of all freight shipped in the U.S. — about 10.7 billion tons this year — amounting to $719 billion in revenue. And thanks to a growing economy and population, the American Trucking Associations expect the industry to grow by 3.4 percent a year until 2023, according to Wired.
Elon Musk last week unveiled Tesla’s fully electric semi truck. It can go 500 miles on a charge, haul 80,000 pounds of freight, and is sort-of self-driving. It comes with enhanced autopilot, the second generation of Tesla’s semiautonomous technology that includes automatic braking, lane keeping, and lane departure warnings.
The semi goes into production in 2019.
While self-driving trucks are expected to change lives, no one really knows what effect automation will have on the trucking sector and its almost 3.2 million people currently employed as delivery and heavy truck drivers.
Some states and some populations will be hit harder than others, the Center for Global Policy Solutions said in a report entitled “Stick Shift: Autonomous Vehicles, Driving Jobs, and the Future of Work.”
If the transition to autonomous trucks happens fast, Black men, people of color and workers in states including North Dakota, Idaho, Wyoming, West Virginia, Mississippi, Arkansas, Iowa and Indiana will suffer disproportionate economic disruption, according to the Center for Global Policy Solutions, a progressive think tank.
More than 30 companies including automakers BMW, Daimler and Ford and tech giants Apple, Uber and Google are developing autonomous vehicle technology. “The idea that transportation workers will be replaced by these innovations is no longer science fiction,” Insurance Journal reported in March, 2017:
“This crisis is likely right around the corner,” said Dr. Maya Rockeymoore, president and CEO of the Center for Global Policy Solutions. “We need a strong safety net that can bolster workers in the event of large-scale, rapid job losses, along with policies that can transition them to new jobs.”
Transportation is one of the few industries where black men are overrepresented, according to the Economic Policy Institute. In New York City, for example, 8.5 percent of all men work in transportation but 15.5 percent of black men are employed in the sector, the Community Service Society of New York reported.
Goldman Sachs economists predict all driving industries could lose up to 300,000 jobs a year to automation but that won’t happen for decades, Wired reported:
“This technology will be introduced sooner than people think, but take a longer time to diffuse through the country,” said Jonny Morris, who heads up policy for Embark. At first, these vehicles might be constrained to certain parts of the U.S., maybe those with good weather. (At this point, self-driving sensors do not love snow That could give drivers time to retrain, or retire. (The median age of a truck driver today is 49).”
Not everyone agrees driverless trucks are happening anytime soon, Insurance Journal reported. Many believe regulations and costs will influence how quickly driverless truck technologies hit the road. But research into autonomous vehicles is on steroids, with some already manufacturing products. Uber is partnering with Volvo and Toyota to make autonomous vehicles.
In May 2015, Nevada licensed Daimler Trucks North America to operate its Freightliner Inspiration Truck, the first licensed autonomous commercial truck to operate on an open public highway in the U.S.
In October 2016, when Uber bought self-driving truck startup Otto, Otto co-founder Lior Ron told Reuters in an interview that Otto-branded trucks and others using Otto technology will begin hauling freight in 2017.
In March, a San Francisco office park began using driverless shuttles on public roads to transport workers around its complex.
The top five states with the largest numbers of workers in driving occupations are California (432,000), Texas (353,000), New York (282,000), Florida (224,000), and Illinois (189,000).
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