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The driverless revolution may exact a political price

Evan Halper, Tribune Washington Bureau on

Published in Automotive News

Embark's head of public policy, Jonny Morris, joins the American Trucking Association in offering an optimistic vision -- one in which truck drivers still will have jobs and their quality of life will be much improved. Instead of making long hauls thousands of miles, Morris said, they could stay in their communities and handle the more-complicated short hops at the beginning and end of the trips, along with loading and unloading. "We believe automation can help improve the number and quality of jobs," he said.

Teamsters executives are skeptical, particularly as many pilot programs exhibit a diminished role for blue-collar workers. Volvo, for example, boasts how the autonomous garbage truck it developed doesn't need a driver in the cab to navigate the route, freeing up that person to load the trash bins. Two jobs appear to become one.

Many of the new positions created by such technology look nothing like the stable trucking jobs that are a staple of blue-collar America. They involve coding, data analysis and operation of complicated computer systems. The training is sophisticated and costly. A college degree could become a prerequisite.

Ford says the White House and Congress better start playing closer attention to what self-driving technology means for truckers and others displaced by the new industry.

"If we don't figure out a way to solve this," he said, "there is going to be a backlash."


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