As we come to the end 2019, there is no question that the driver shortage is still a widely spread issue throughout the nation for the transportation industry. This causes a variety of issues for both business and safety. First, let’s define the two primary types of truck drivers. Typically a truck driver is either union, where they don’t own their truck, or an owner-operator where they are responsible for their own operational costs and truck. There are many reasons for the driver shortage, but the one we see the most is from a trucker’s perspective. This is from the owner operator’s high upfront costs it takes to lease a truck, along with the wear and tear costs such as fuel, maintenance and insurance, it just isn’t worthwhile for truckers. Not to mention, since most truck drivers are away from home for long periods of time, this profession can turn many qualified people away.
What is the result? On the negative side, we see an impact on the safety perspective. The shortage leaves a target audience for younger less experienced drivers who may be willing to get the job done, but do not have the experience of someone who has a few years under their belt. Department of Transportation (DOT) research statistics show that those who have under five years of experience are 41% more likely to be in a trucking accident. The shortage also leaves those who are in the industry with less time to make sure deliveries are made on time. This can greatly affect safety on the road for the truck drivers and other motorists. With fewer drivers, there are also fewer trucks. This creates a reason to overload the freight capacity on a truck causing the safety issues to be greater. With all of this taking effect, it is causing the industry leaders to search for other solutions.
One possible solution to this problem comes from Embark Trucks. Embark is a San-Francisco based start-up company of self-driving semi-trucks that are opening their first cargo transfer hubs on the West Coast. Started by three college friends, Embark operates thirteen semi-trucks with seventy employees. They are designing hardware and sensors for trucks that are adjusted to the absence of traffic lights, complex turns, and other obstacles such as unaware pedestrians.
Embark has $70 million in new funding, and with human intervention, they have begun testing with hauling loads from Los Angeles to Arizona. Their goal is to operate without human drivers, and in this industry, this is called level four automated driving capability. Their funding will also be used to transfer hubs where automated trucks can pick up trailers from distribution centers in the proximity. One Embark employee said, “Customers will still have local drivers handling the pickup of trailers but they will be able to access the benefits of self-driving trucks without needing to change the way they do business.” There are five Fortune 500 companies who wish to keep their names disclosed that are signed on to use Embark for freight-hauling contracts. The human element will still be used on the logistics side from beginning to end, but the in between work environment will go automated. These are some of the innovative ideas that we will see in the transportation industry to cope with the driver shortage in the years to come.