Global industry bodies call for harmonisation of driverless truck rules

Governments must consider ways to manage the transition to driverless trucks in order to avoid potential social disruption from job losses, according to a new report published by the International Transport Forum (ITF).

“Self-driving trucks will help save costs, lower emissions, make roads safer, [and] they could address the shortage of professional drivers faced by the road transport industry,” the report found.

“But automated trucks could also reduce the demand for drivers by 50-70 per cent in the US and Europe by 2030, with up to 4.4 million of the projected 6.4 million professional trucking jobs becoming redundant [under] one scenario.”

Even if the rise of driverless trucks dissuaded newcomers from trucking, over two million existing drivers in the US and Europe could be directly displaced, according to scenarios examined for the report.

The report makes four recommendations to help manage the transition to driverless road freight, starting with establishing a transition advisory board to advise on labour issues.

The report also recommends a temporary permit system to manage the speed of adoption, and to set international standards, road rules and vehicle regulations for self-driving trucks.

What’s more, it encourages industry to continue pilot projects with driverless trucks to test vehicles, network technology and communications protocols.

The report was prepared jointly by the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association (ACEA), the International Transport Workers' Federation and the International Road Transport Union (IRU), the road transport's industry's global body, in a project led by the ITF, a Paris-based intergovernmental organisation linked to the OECD.

José Viegas, Secretary-General of the ITF, said, “Driverless trucks could be a regular presence on many roads within the next ten years.

“Manufacturers are investing heavily into automation, and many governments are actively reviewing their regulations. Preparing now for potential negative social impact of job losses will mitigate the risks in case a rapid transition occurs.”

ACEA Secretary General, Erik Jonnaert, agreed, “Harmonisation of rules across countries is critical for maximising the gains from driverless truck technology.

“Automated trucks are clearly not a national issue, as they should be able to move smoothly across borders. We need international standards, legislation and processes to obtain exemptions from road rules that are appropriate for self-driving trucks.

“Otherwise we risk having a patchwork of rules and regulations, which could hinder manufacturers and road users from investing in automated vehicles.”

Christian Labrot, President of the IRU, added, “We have to remember the dedicated drivers of today will need to be retrained tomorrow, and we must keep attracting professionals into road transport. We all need to work together for a smooth transition to driverless technology.”

In line with that, Steve Cotton, General Secretary of the International Transport Workers' Federation, said that automation in trucking demands a “managed and just” transition.

“We strongly welcome the report's recommendation that trade unions must be part of any such process,” he explained. “We must avoid excessive hardship for truck drivers and ensure the gains from the technology are fairly shared across society. This report is a timely investigation into how that transition could happen”

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