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  • Writer's pictureSofa Summits

Preparing for the Economic Impact of Autonomous Vehicles

On Friday my colleague wrote an article about the trialling of autonomous trucks. Trucks that not only drive themselves, but platooning, where numerous vehicles follow a lead vehicle that is in control of getting them to the destination.

Since the dawn of time technology has been finding ways to replace human jobs, but this has been especially prevalent since the first industrial revolution. There is always talk about how jobs are being replaced with robots, but this has mainly focussed on the manufacturing or mining industries. These industries have been traditional forms of employment for the working class and therefore it is usually those with less money that suffer the most when technology disrupts an industry.

But, technology not only takes away jobs, it creates them too. For example the motor vehicle, when this technological revolution came along it changed the way that people and goods were transported across the planet, but at the same time because it created a whole industry and millions of jobs. Not only jobs in the production of the vehicles, but in the transporting of people and goods.

The rise of autonomous vehicles, which despite a lot of regulatory challenges that need to be resolved, seems inevitable – the potential cost saving for industry seems far too high for the technology to not take off over the coming years. Yes, there will be bumps in the road from a legal and regulatory perspective, but the country/countries that prioritise this could give themselves a big competitive advantage in what is now a global economy.

The positive aspects have been well discussed by Cities Digest in previous articles, but what about the negatives. The biggest of which is likely to be the loss of a lot of jobs, whether that be taxi drivers, HGV drivers, delivery drivers or forklift drivers – there are so many citizens across the globe that rely on this industry to make a living.

In the UK there are currently 600,000+ registered HGV drivers, now it is unlikely that all of these are actually driving at any one time, but let us say that 75% of them are actively working. Now imagine if over the course of a few years that all of these people, that are skilled at what they do, became unemployed because employers start switching to autonomous vehicles. That is 450,000 people whose skills no longer offer them the opportunity of employment. How can governments be expected to find new industries and jobs for these citizens?

Firstly, it would involve a massive campaign in re-training, the investment in this would be huge and in the meantime you are going to have a large number of people that are claiming benefits. Also, what industries do you focus on for them to re-train in? How do you motivate people to make these changes?

There are so many questions that need to be answered and governments are not good at looking beyond the 4-5 years that they have in power. To be really prepared, for what could be one of the biggest mass changes of employment known to man, governments need to work across party to put in place a long term plan for the future of their economy – politics should not involved in these decisions. At this time we see government’s happy to invest in piloting new autonomous vehicles, thinking that this could be the next big thing, but they have no foresight to plan for the future of their citizens that will be impacted.

We have seen in the US with the election of President Trump that the people at the bottom of the ladder already feel that they have been left behind, imagine how that could be amplified if over the course of 10 years all driving jobs became redundant. There would be protests and potential civil unrest. This is not an easy topic for governments to plan for, but history tells us that technology usually wins and that human jobs are usually the one that suffers. The government that invests in this technology, but puts in place a real plan for the future of citizens will be the one that makes a real success out of the rise of autonomous vehicles.


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