Any sane person doing a risk benefit analysis of truck driving would refuse to contemplate the idea without a very high salary on offer. However, there are plenty of people willing and able to drive trucks in some pretty dire conditions for not a lot of pay.
The idea of sticking yourself on the front of 60 plus tonnes of steel flying down a badly maintained highway at 100 km/h, with poorly trained and uncaring motorists all around you, should fill the ordinary person with dread. In fact, the number who are willing to make this lifestyle choice does seem to be dwindling.
With 40 per cent of the driver population over 55, it’s clear the number of young people coming into the industry is falling. There doesn’t seem to be anything about life on the open road, being your own boss and handling big machinery, which attracts the Gen Y and Millennial population.
The pay isn’t very good for the time and inconvenience involved in truck driving, especially interstate. For interstate drivers the relatively high pay may be welcome, but spending the weekends you do get at home trying to catch up on sleep is no fun.
For drivers who get home every night the pay is lower, but the grief is often similar, with days spent fighting to get a large truck through unseeing city traffic on a road system designed for the horse and cart. You can try and paint the industry as something better than this but for many involved in trucking, this is their day-to-day reality.
To make the idea of driving trucks even less of a smart career choice, they have now introduced the idea autonomous trucks will be taking over and there will be no truckie jobs anyway. Why would you choose to get into a career which is going to be obsolete in a few years?
The fact of the matter is the trucking industry is going to need good operators for a long time to come. With a bit of luck all of this automation and fitting of highly sophisticated safety control systems will make the life of those involved in trucking a little less stressful and more rewarding.
All of the automated loading systems in the world are not going to be able to ensure a load on a truck is safe, without a skilled human being getting involved. The risks are too great. Even shipping containers have to be loaded correctly or risk causing dynamic problems at highway speeds.
Then add another factor into the equation. The average age of a truck on Australia’s roads is 14 years. This means, if every truck entering the fleet from now on was autonomous, it would still be 14 years before half of the trucks on the road were driverless.
The real power of driverless control will not begin to kick in until Intelligent Traffic Systems become a reality. Smart roadside infrastructure, speed signs, traffic lights etc. are needed to ensure each ITS enabled vehicle knows where it is and where all of the other vehicles are. On the evidence of infrastructure investment in the past thirty years, full coverage on Aussie roads is going to be a long time coming.
What will this process towards autonomous vehicles give us? Hopefully, we can get some better safety outcomes. If the cars on the highway had some form of autonomy to help avoid accidents the saving will be valuable. Currently, the other vehicle is at fault in 88 per cent of multi vehicle crash incidents involving a truck. Autonomous cars will make truckies in old bangers safer and less likely to be involved in an accident in which the car’s occupants die.
Can we predict the future? No. Are our roads likely to be safer? Yes. Is autonomous control coming?Yes, but not that soon.