Automated Driving and Traffic Safety

kronberg-volvo-blogby Peter Kronberg, Safety Director Volvo Group

Automated driving holds promise of a revolutionary new way of providing transport and mobility. Indeed, the added value in improved productivity and efficiency that can be extracted in commercial transport operations appears to be substantial.

But, the question of the impact of automation on road safety tends to divide the public in two distinct camps – one lauding the life-saving potential, and the other envisioning a future of self-aware vehicles running wild, causing death and destruction.

So, where are we heading? Well, I believe the reality of the challenges involved is becoming apparent as more automation pilots are deployed and experience accumulates. Improving road safety on a system-wide level will prove challenging. Yet, under favorable circumstances automation concepts are showing great safety potential. Favorable is a key word here.

The vast majority of incidents and crashes involve human behavior. It is easy, then, to suppose that taking the human out of the loop will reduce crashes correspondingly. Yet, I think intuitively we understand there is something wrong with this logic. And the reason is most driving involves no crashes. An attentive person is fantastic at anticipating events in complex situations – much better indeed than any AI outside of Hollywood.

What strikes me in the debate on automation is the tendency to confuse automation and safety – especially, I fear, among those supposedly well-informed in the area. It is easy to be tricked by the fact that active safety and automation share technologies. Naturally, there will be no successful deployment of automation unless it is safe. But, the development of one does not follow naturally from the other. Both areas require dedicated efforts.

In conventional driving, the human driver performs both operational maneuvers and the highly intricate task of anticipating and mitigating critical situations. The objective of safety is largely to introduce barriers – conceptual and real – to minimize the consequences of mistakes and errors.

The challenge for a highly-automated driving system, then, is to accomplish both the basic task of driving and anticipating and avoiding emerging critical situations. In other words, it must be able to avoid or mitigate any situation it can reasonably encounter in its operational domain – not just mitigate the rare instances missed by a human driver.

Do I sound skeptic about automation? Well, in fact, I am quite the opposite. I believe vehicle automation will make great contributions to road safety. But, it needs to be done right – with safety as a primary design factor. This means vehicles need to behave safely – be sensibly cautious and use good margins. It also means the set of conditions under which the vehicle can safely operate is actually an integral part of the solution itself. In other words, the when, where and how, are just as important as the what. With joint effort we have a chance to develop conditions on a system level that are favorable for safe automation. It may mean starting in confined – or by other means controlled – areas, and then working systematically to increase the number of applications viable for automated driving.

Done right we will be able to reap all the benefits automation offers in terms of productivity and efficiency while enhancing safety.

That’s the Volvo way.

Peter Kronberg will join other transport leaders from across the globe for the ITF 2018 Summit on “Transport Safety and Security” in Leipzig, Germany held from 23 to 25 May. Find out more…

 

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How shipping got its own Paris Agreement – and what that means

by Olaf Merk

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Maritime shipping now also has its “Paris Agreement”. On Friday, 13 April, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and its member states agreed on an “Initial GHG Strategy” for shipping. This strategy sets out an absolute target to reduce shipping emission by “at least” 50% by 2050. It also commits the sector to pursue efforts to phase out CO2 emissions in line with the objective of Paris Climate Agreement.

Is this compromise (for that’s what it is) a historic achievement or a collection of weasel words? How did we get here? And what still needs to be done? In my view, the deal struck at IMO is a huge step – for at least three reasons.

First, the IMO’s Initial GHG Strategy is the first big response of shipping to the climate change challenge since the introduction of an energy efficiency measure for ships, the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI), in 2012. The EEDI, developed in the wake of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the predecessor of the Paris Agreement, is a binding global regulation. But it has at best a moderate positive impact on shipping’s greenhouse gas emissions,which will materialise only over the long term (given that the EEDI only applies to new ships, while the average life time of ships is more than 25 years).

Looking good

Second, the new agreement makes shipping – seen as a laggard by some – suddenly look better than the aviation industry, the other transport sector that was exempt from the Paris Agreement because its emissions defy national boundaries. The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), IMO’s sister body that regulates global aviation, was much faster than the IMO to respond to the Paris Agreement. However, its solution now seems less robust than what the maritime sector is now undertaking. For the moment, aviation has adopted a voluntary offset scheme but avoided to set an absolute emission reduction target as the one just agreed at IMO.

Third, shipping and IMO delegates have come a long way in their approach to combatting climate change. An absolute emission target for shipping was unthinkable a few years ago, and even two weeks ago far from certain.

 

In short, this commitment goes further than anything in the past or in similar sectors. And it surpasses what seemed possible only since very recently. So yes, this was probably the best possible outcome for all those who wanted shipping to align with the Paris temperature goals. Even if the Initial GHG Strategy does not quite achieve that (a 50% cut will not suffice to get shipping on a pathway to the famous 1.5-degree scenario),  it sends a clear signal that the sector needs to decarbonise. This will not be without impact on how ship owners act. It will also drive technological innovation for cleaner shipping. Not least, the IMO agreement is a boost for multilateral solutions; all too rare these days.

So, the agreement on the IMO Initial GHG Strategy provides a good reason to uncork some champagne – for those who need a reason for that.

 

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ITF port and shippping expert Olaf Merk talks about hoe maritime transport can decarbonise

 

 

Litmus test of statesmanship

How did this little miracle happen? A combination of things was at work: A technical debate became politicised. A powerful actor threatened unilateral action. Laggards were effectively shamed. Evidence made an impact.

Politicisation took the form of the Tony de Brum declaration. This text, supported by more than 45 countries, demanded that shipping align itself with the goals of the Paris Agreement. Pushed by French President Emmanuel Macron and Hilda Heine, President of the Marshall Islands, during the One Planet Summit in November 2017 the declaration was a political masterstroke: It made shipping emissions a strategic political priority and a litmus test of statesmanship, rather than the arcane topic for shipping technocrats and corporate lobbyists it had been for so long. Intense cooperation among officials of the most ambitious countries, sailing under the flag of the “High Ambition Coalition”, provided important backup.

Another success factor was the threat of unilateral action by the EU. Lack of progress at IMO, the Europeans made clear, could lead (and can still lead) to inclusion of shipping in the emission-trading scheme of the EU-ETS. This was a rather big stick to wield: The prospect of scattered regional rather than global regulation horrifies the shipping sector. EU parliamentarians attended  IMO meetings and added pressure by lending support to the European Commission’s Plan B.

A new degree of transparency

Added Into this mix was a new degree of transparency. Journalists are not allowed to report on what countries say during IMO meetings. Yet social media and leaks to media made it possible for the public to follow the positions of individual countries. Public blaming and shaming by environmental NGOs and activist Twitter accounts like @imoclimate as well as extensive coverage of country’s respective positions in the press seem to have had an effect – most of the countries less eager to commit to strong ambitions backed down in the end.

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ITF report “Decarbonising Maritime Transport: Pathways to zero-carbon shipping by 2035”

Finally, there were the facts. Over the past years, ample evidence has been collected which shows that zero-carbon shipping is possible and will create new opportunities. Innovative ship-owners demonstrated what is possible in practice, for example in Sweden. A range of studies, emanating from the research community (like or the University Marine Advisory Services, ship classification societies (like Lloyd’s Register) and policy think tanks like the International Transport Forum.

That said, much remains to be done. Finding agreement on short-term measures to reduce emissions will be a tough job. One of the guiding principles in the IMO Initial GHG Strategy is the concept of “common but differentiated responsibilities” (“CBDR” in climate-change speak), meaning while there is a shared obligation to address climate change, not everyone can be held responsible at the same level.  The introduction of this approach (adopted from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC) to the context of shipping (where all ships are treated equally,  irrespective of whether they fly the flag of a developing or developed country) is likely to make discussions on the concrete measures to cut CO2 complex and heated.

But that will come tomorrow. For now, let us just enjoy a historic moment.


Olaf Merk is a port and shipping expert at the International Transport Forum.

Let’s get serious about saving lives!

Opinion Piece by Jean Todt, FIA President and UN Special Envoy for Road Safety

For a number of years now we have been complaining about the consequences of road crashes, the millions of premature deaths, the tens of millions of serious injuries that impair so many people for life.  We have been documenting the progression of the scourge, gathering statistics, disseminating facts and figures.  We have organized countless conferences, symposiums, workshops, to debate what to do to curb this seemingly unstoppable pandemics.  Only early on we agreed on one thing: it actually was not unstoppable, and more to the point, we knew what needed to be done to stop it.

Of course over time we refined our approach, deepened our knowledge, improved our understanding of what worked best in which circumstances.  Numerous institutions, including the World Bank and United Nations organizations, kept organizing training events to disseminate those findings and equip national and local governments with the tools they needed to fight this recurring disease.  Then the international community took notice and the Decade of Action for Road Safety was launched with the objective of reversing the trend, of eventually bringing down for good the mounting statistics of road crashes.

But let’s face it: despite all the good will, despite these multiple efforts, despite all the talk and conferences, people keep dying on the road in unacceptable numbers.

So this is the time to change gears.  This is the time to realize once and for all that a world in which 3,500 people die on the road every day for no reason can hardly be called civilized.  This is the time to move away from figures, statistics and reports, and look at what this is all about.  And this is about flesh and blood.  This is about saving lives.

We may be reaching a turning point.  Part of the reasons why so many efforts to date have met with too little success has to do with insufficient resources.  The countries suffering most from road crashes are also those so much in need of support on so many fronts that it becomes hard for their governments to set aside funding for something too many development experts have long considered to be some kind of collateral damage of growth.  Hopefully today nobody would claim this any longer, so all what remains is the need to find the proper means to deal with what should be a simple question, a question of life and death.

This week the United Nations General Assembly will establish the United Nations Road Safety Trust Fund.  We must all hope this will prove to be the tool we were missing in our quest to muster the resources needed to effectively turn the tide on road crashes.

Simultaneously the Safer City Streets network will meet in Rome for the third time, at the invitation of the International Transport Forum and with the support of the International Automobile Federation (FIA).  Let’s not forget about half of fatal crashes occur in cities.

And in a month from now, the eleventh edition of the International Transport Forum will take place in Leipzig, under the theme Transport Safety and Security.  This sequence must not be just another round of well-intentioned debates.  It must epitomize a renewed global commitment, a renewed global will, so that when we meet again a year from now, in New York City, in Rome, in Leipzig, in any far corner of this world, we can see an actual downturn in road deaths and injuries.

It’s time to reclaim the right to call this planet a civilized place.

It’s time to get serious about saving lives.

Join Jean Todt, transport ministers and business leaders at the ITF 2018 Summit on “Transport Safety and Security” on 23-25 May.

“In traffic safety, the human factor plays a key role”

FehlauerThree questions to Jann Fehlauer, Head of Vehicle Testing, DEKRA Automotive

Mr Fehlauer, the DEKRA Road Safety Report 2018, which will be published in June, deals with freight transport. How do you rate the current level of traffic safety in this area?

If we look to Europe, the trend of recent years points in the right direction. Commercial vehicles are becoming safer, and the number of serious accidents is declining, with increasing traffic density. However, there is no reason to rest on our laurels. The fact is: Especially heavy trucks accidents can result in serious, even fatal, injuries.

 

What role do modern driver assistance systems play in this context?

Much has already been achieved in recent years. Modern emergency brake assistants can prevent many of the worst accidents, for example driving up on a traffic jam end. However, the potential must be exploited even more efficiently. These are issues such as the market penetration of security systems, their disconnectability, as well as how drivers are informed about the effects and limitations of these systems.

 

What other starting points do you see to improve traffic safety in the commercial vehicle sector?

We have to take actions at all levels: the vehicles have to be safe, which means, among other things, that their technical condition has to be checked independently on a regular basis. The infrastructure must be as secure as possible. But the human factor also plays a key role. The best safety systems are useless if the driver does not use them. And that applies not only to modern electronic systems, but also to supposedly well-known things like the safety belt.

Jann Fehlauer will join other transport leaders from across the globe for the ITF 2018 Summit on “Transport Safety and Security” in Leipzig, Germany held from 23 to 25 May. Find out more…

 

“Digitalization is a key enabler to even higher safety standards”

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Laurent Troger, President of Bombardier Transportation, talks about the impact of digitization on the safety and security of rail and associated costs, harmonisation of technical and legal standards, and industry risks.

“We always put safety first, no exceptions. Now more than ever we believe that our relentless evolution of technical safety is a vital prerequisite for successful mobility solutions. Digitalization is a key enabler to safety standards in the transportation industry. This is for the benefit of rail operators, passengers and society”, Laurent Troger.


 

Safety and security are obviously very important in transport, but ensuring them carries significant costs. How can operators and manufacturers make mobility safer and more secure while keeping it affordable?

Rail manufacturers have shown that competition and innovation can deliver the safety standards we need at the price we want. For example, as the technology used to develop autonomous vehicles matures, its price drops and Bombardier is already applying those technologies to our rail vehicles. One example is our system to detect obstacles, a cost-effective breakthrough that exponentially improves tram safety. Taken overall, rail is still a very affordable mobility option. The capital costs for a new train account for around one third of its full lifetime cost and today’s trains are safer, more energy efficient, more reliable and easier to maintain then they have ever been.

Technical and legal standards play a huge role in making transportation safe and secure. From the global player’s perspective, where is more harmonisation needed to further improve safety and security?

We have made great progress with the existing European regulations supported by European standards and a single EU-wide authorisation process. These measures have already reduced costs and removed persistent administrative barriers. Signalling standards such as ERTMS (European Rail Traffic Management System) and ETCS (European Train Control System) are also positive achievements that we should be proud of, but are something we still need to build upon.

However, one area where I do see a need to maintain our focus on harmonization is in cyber security. Bombardier is working with other manufacturers, operators, authorities and assessment organizations to create a single, coherent set of safety standards. As critical infrastructures, the cyber security of the entire rail ecosystem’s technical integrity needs to be a focal point in the years ahead. Everyone from manufacturer and operator to the owner and the authority has a significant role to play in ensuring our rail systems aren’t compromised.

Do you see digitalisation and innovation as increasing the safety of rail mobility? Or do you view them as risks?

Digitalization is already improving security. Due to the relative affordability of advanced sensors, manufacturers are leveraging the power of mobility innovations for rolling stock services. This implies predictive maintenance or communication based train control for signalling. Both have increased safety and reduced the potential for human error while improving efficiency. Of course, the Internet of Things, interconnectivity and the potential integration of personal devices into operator’s platforms do present new challenges. But they are challenges that we will mitigate with cyber security solutions like the introduction of faster and more robust telecommunications – for example the Long-Term Evolution, hi-speed wireless standard for signalling infrastructure. It might not be easy to address these new challenges as they emerge, but it’s certainly not impossible. Either way, Bombardier chooses to see digitalization as an advantage and an opportunity.

Laurent Troger will join other transport leaders from across the globe for the ITF 2018 Summit on “Transport Safety and Security” in Leipzig, Germany held from 23 to 25 May. Find out more…

How to be a lifesaver: Three simple things to do that will make city roads less deadly

by Hans Michael Kloth, Internatinal Transport Forum

Today  is European Day Without A Road Death, or EDWARD for short. Well, it isn’t really. By the end of today, 21 September 2017, the lives of 70 people will have been lost  in traffic crashes, as every day in the European Union.

And Europe is doing well in comparison. Of the almost 1.25 million annual road deaths worldwide, 90% occur in the poorer countries of Africa, Asia and South America. Even in countries that have been highly successful in improving road safety in the past, such as Sweden, the number of traffic fatalities has been rising again recently. In 2015, the 31 member countries of the International Road Traffic and Accident Database (IRTAD) for which data are consistently available registered a 3.3% increase in road fatalities  compared to 2014, and 2016 figures again show an upward trend for 14 of these.

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Memorial for a cyclists killed in a road crash, Manchester 2013 (Photo: Grey World/Flickr cc by)

What can we do as individuals to help turn the tide on road deaths? EDWARD provides an important reminder that being a lifesaver is actually not that difficult. So here are three simple things that you can do to protect yourself and others in traffic – one each for cyclists, one for motorists, and one for mayors.

Giv’em a sign!

The group that experts call “vulnerable road users” is at particular risk on the road. The share of elderly (65+ years) among road fatalities, for instance, outstrips their share of the population by as much as 2:1. Also vulnerable are cyclists, which are a fast growing group of road users as cities try to encourage sustainable forms of transport.

Unlike pedestrians, who are somewhat protected by urban space dedicated to their use (a.k.a. sidewalks), cyclists are usually forced to cohabit with cars. Invariably, crashes between these two unequal parties happen, and, equally invariably, they end with injuries or worse for cyclists while the car barely shows a scratch.

“Wear a helmet”, is one often-heard counsel. Head injuries from cycling crashes are common, usually severe and often deadly, and to reduce your individual risk of severe injury in case you bang into something, there is nothing better than wearing a helmet. On the other hand there’s the problem of compensation (riders taking extra risks and cars being more aggressive as both factor in the protection). There is a huge, emotional debate around helmets that sometimes obscures a simple truth: They are great for preventing the worst when something bad happens, but do nothing for preventing something bad to occur in the first place.

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Signalling a left turn, alternate signals for a right turn, and indicating the intention to stop (Illustration: Shutterstock)

For active safety, therefore, try something truly simple, no matter what your position on helmets is: When you take a turn, make a sign. I started indicating with my stretched-out arm a year ago, after I caught myself cursing at a car that had put me in a tight spot by not indicating, and then realised I was being a little hypocritical. Since, I have made signaling my moves a cycling habit, and the enhanced sense of safety I have felt when biking through the sometimes mad traffic of Paris has been reassuring and a refreshing exprience.

Predictability really is the best friend of safety. Simply doing things in a way that enables others to anticipate your behaviour empowers them to adjust their own ways and avoid dangerous situations based on misreading each other. I’ve heard others say that indicating turns can create dangerous situations because the cyclist has less control when riding with just one hand on the bar. I found the opposite to be as true – one hand off the handle forces you to slow down, and  it becomes impossible to weave through traffic, one of the more dangerous cycling practices.

Reach out the Dutch way

Anyone who has watched this video will appreciate why cyclists live in mortal fear of car doors. It’s an almost daily experience for anyone who rides a bicycle through a city: a driver or passenger opens the car door without checking whether anyone is approaching from behind. At the very least, the cyclist will be forced to veer into traffic and risk being hit; in the worst case, with no time to react they will  slam into the door like into a knife. In June, the case of a Saudi diplomat made headlines when he killed a 55-year old cyclist in Berlin with the door of his Porsche. Statistics are rare, but the UK for instance experienced 1.3 “dooring” incidents on average every single day of  2015.

So what can you do as a motorist to avoid knocking down someone else with your door? Open it using the “Dutch Reach”. This way of opening car doors has been practiced in the Netherlands for half a century. In fact it is part of  training when you get your driver’s licence there. How does it work? Simply grab the door handle with the far hand, not with the one on the side of the door. This  forces your body to swivel towards the door and your field of vision will  automatically include the rear view mirror as well a the area besides and immediately behind your car. It’s a simple routine that requires minimal change of behaviour but can prevent human tragedies on our streets. (The video above explains how it works).

Degrees of separation

Many cities are investing heavily into more cycling paths and infrastructure that will encourage urbanites to walk and cycle. The “active modes” of transport help citizens stay healthy, reduce pollution, unclog the streets and generally make cities more attractive, inclusive, livable. Yet the urban road system was never designed for mixing well-protected, heavy and high-velocity vehicles with unprotected, lightweight and slower bicycles. It follows logically that they are best separated to avoid conflict, as is the case with cars and pedestrians.

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Cycle lane in London (Photo: Ron Enslin/Flickr cc by)

Yet there are very different ways to do this. Some options can be rolled out quickly and are inexpensive, but ultimately provide only a semblance of separation and thus safety. It’s a step in the right direction to paint a blue or red or green strip with a white bicycle icon along the kerbside of a street. But that won’t keep a car or van or truck  from veering onto the bicycle lane whenever the driver chooses (or is forced to). Some cities learned the hard way what the cost of expanding the cycling network in a rush can be. In London, no less than six cyclists killed in crashes in a space of two weeks in November 2013.

Instead of spending money on paint, mayors might invest in stone and cement, and install physical separators between car and bike lanes. People who have never cycled before will not take to the bicycle unless they feel safe from cars. Bright colours alone will not give them that feeling, a physical barrier between them cars will. When I cycle to work, I use a route that is slightly longer, simply because it has a segregated bicycle lane with a 20 centimetre high concrete barrier – that’s all it needs. At ITF we will be holding a Roundtable to discuss just what works best in January, in the context of Safer City Streets, a global network of cities that work together on improving urban road safety – stay tuned for details.

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Paris bicycle lane with separator (Photo: Jean-Louis Zimmermann/Flickr cc by)

A day without a road death in Europe is still some way off. But an encouraging number of European cities have actually achieved the remarkable feat of having not a single road death in a whole year or even longer. There must be something these communities are doing right. It may not necessarily have been a high-profile, high-cost road safety initiative, but perhaps a mixture of little common sense things consistently applied. So let’s not stop taking the small steps that will get us there eventually. Whether you cycle, drive a car, run a city, all three, or nothing of those: think about what you can do to help overcome the scourge of road deaths – every day, not just on EDWARD.

 

Hans Michael Kloth cycles to work and occasionally drives a car on week-ends. He is Head of Communications of the the International Transport Forum

Can driverless trucks deliver social gains as well as beer?

By Daniel Veryard, International Transport Forum

Convoy of yellow trucks on the roadTrials of automated taxis and buses are becoming a common sight in our cities. At the same time, driverless trucks are already moving containers and minerals around many mines and ports, sometimes without any human intervention at all. And although less visible, trucks might well be the first to cross the threshold of fully driverless operations on our public roads.

There are reasons for enthusiasm and for skepticism about predictions of driverless vehicles being allowed on our roads in the near term. Legal issues are numerous and contentious, the most obvious one being who will be to blame for a crash. Technical issues are also mind-blowing. How can computers armed with sensors match – and eventually exceed – the incredible processing power and intuition of the human brain?

Yet progress is being made on both fronts. Behind the scenes, governments and international bodies are working with industry to adapt regulation and road rules to a wholly new idea of what it means to drive a vehicle. There is a genuine motivation from governments not to stand in the way of the opportunities presented by automation.

Fierce competition

Amazing progress has been made on technical challenges in recent years. Advances in computing power, software and sensor technology have meant that in the space of just four years, computers have gone from dunce to top of the class in their ability to recognise objects and human faces. The same systems that can recognise over 96% of all images of physical objects are now being trained to recognise and respond rapidly to a huge array of real-world situations on our roads.

Fierce competition between incumbent vehicle manufacturers and new entrants seeking to disrupt the market for mobility is spurring large investments in research and development of driverless technologies. A large part of the EUR 44.7 billion that the automotive industry invests into R&D every year is dedicated to connected and automated driving.

On-road tests with prototype driverless trucks are already being carried out. Last year a start-up in the US working on autonomous trucks claimed the first commercial delivery (of beer cans) undertaken with a highly automated truck; the on-board systems handled all of the motorway sections of the journey without the driver monitoring operations. And European vehicle manufacturers worked together with governments to demonstrate the technical and legal feasibility of coordinating trucks from different origins to form automatically connected convoys of pairs and trios of trucks to travel together on a joint final leg of their journey to Rotterdam. Such technology would allow “platoons” of trucks to travel with only one person in the lead truck to be actively driving.

Huge cost advantages

Appetite among operators for the driverless technology is likely to be strong once it becomes available. The International Transport Forum (ITF) estimates that on long-distance routes driverless trucks could be operated with a cost advantage of 30% or more compared to conventional manned trucks. Drivers represent the biggest chunk of operational costs. Drivers are also a constraint on using trucks around the clock – they do need breaks to rest, after all. Making humans in the cabin superfluous means trucks could operate day and night without having to stop, except for refuelling.

The impacts that this transformation would have on driver jobs and livelihoods is not often discussed in policy and technical circles, however. Perhaps the threat of displacement for drivers is given less attention because the implicit assumption is that former drivers will quickly find alternative employment in growth sectors, such as personal services. While this possibility should not be dismissed out of hand, the stakes for drivers and for society at large are sufficiently high for us at ITF to decide that the labour impacts of driverless trucks were worth exploring in detail.

Driverless trucks cover

For this report, we teamed up with three leading transport-sector organisations – representing truck manufacturers, road freight operators and transport unions – to consider whether driverless road freight transport might be developed, allowed and adopted over the next two decades. In particular we wanted to understand what could be done to manage the labour impacts of the adoption of driverless trucks.

Redundant drivers

There are currently nearly 6 million professional heavy truck drivers employed across the US and Europe, according to ITF estimates.  At the current pay and conditions, hauliers struggle to attract enough qualified drivers. Projections tell us that without driverless trucks, around 6.4 million truck drivers will be needed across Europe and the US by 2030, yet fewer than 5.6 million will be available. Many of today’s drivers are nearing retirement age, and women and young people have not been taking up trucking. If these trends continue, driver shortages are expected to get worse – in Europe especially.

Driverless trucks could be used to gradually replace retiring drivers. However, the adoption of driverless trucks is likely to reduce demand for drivers at a faster rate than a supply shortage would emerge: Of the projected 6.4 million driver jobs in 2030, between 3.4 and 4.4 million would become redundant if driverless trucks are deployed quickly. Even accounting for prospective truck drivers being progressively dissuaded by the advent of driverless technology, over 2 million drivers across the US and Europe could be directly displaced by 2030 in some of the scenarios examined.

For businesses and displaced workers alike, large-scale and rapid adoption would be highly disruptive for future plans. The trucking industry is faced with the dilemma of trying to encourage people into driving roles right now, yet doing so would add to the ranks of people who need to be transitioned to new jobs when driverless technology is adopted. And for drivers or would-be drivers, the future roles in trucking may be more interesting, yet there may well be fewer of these jobs.

Disruptive automation

For today’s truck drivers the risks from driverless technology are profound. At a minimum, they may need to learn new skills to adapt to a new working environment in the truck cabin. Or they may lose their job altogether. While truck drivers are typically flexible, self-reliant and able to concentrate for long periods, they tend to be older and with less formal education. So finding and re-training for alternative jobs may not be straightforward, particularly as displaced drivers could face competition for jobs from workers being displaced from jobs in other sectors – after all, trucking will not be the only sector changed by automation.

Alternative job opportunities for displaced truck drivers will be created both in the trucking industry and beyond. However, whether a high-automation economy will generate enough employment and whether these jobs are suitable for displaced truck drivers, are both open questions.

These challenges partly stem from the uncertainty around the timing and extent of the labour market impacts from driverless trucks. Yet uncertainty does not mean we should stand back and let it happen. There are options for giving some control to the people affected. The ITF study proposed consideration of a permit scheme that would allow trucks to operate without driver only if in possession of an electronic certificate issued by the relevant authority (assuming a safety approval process had been developed and passed by the vehicle). The governments could sell such permits to road freight operators at auctions. The proceeds from the permit sales could be used to fund transition arrangements for displaced drivers, such as retraining programmes or, if need be, income replacement payments.

Managing the transition

The number of government permits issued each year could be set in consultation with an advisory board. This “labour transition board” should be temporary and include representatives from labour unions, road freight businesses, vehicle manufacturers and government. It would support the government in choosing the right policy mix to ensure that costs, benefits and risks from automated road haulage are fairly distributed.

The board could take account of various factors to ensure its recommendations maximise the potential benefits for society from driverless road freight. Balancing costs and benefits will require evidence on the evolving demand for driverless operation and developments in the labour market. If demand for the permits was high, permits would attract high prices (or be sold in large volumes), giving strong revenues for active labour market programs that year; more displaced drivers could be supported, suggesting the release of more permits could be a welfare-improving change the following year. Under this arrangement, policy makers would be specifically empowered and informed to make the trade-off.

The challenge of inequality

The approach proposed from the ITF and its partners should be seen as a risk management strategy in the face of an uncertain uptake of driverless technology. It is possible that the transition to automation in the trucking sector and elsewhere will proceed slowly and in an orderly fashion, with market forces smoothly directing unemployed drivers into new opportunities elsewhere. In such a scenario, the government’s intervention in transition would be largely unnecessary. In practice, the measures could be quickly withdrawn by issuing large numbers of permits or removing the need for permits altogether.

However, the rapid and unprecedented accumulation of computing power suggests that we may well reach a point where human labour is increasingly superseded. In such a scenario, the labour transition arrangements may well prove crucial in keeping humans in charge of their own futures before a strong set of vested interests are formed. Embedding this control into the fabric of the transition could make the adoption less risky from a social welfare perspective and more feasible from a political economy perspective. Transition arrangements for truck drivers may also help policy makers understand how to best respond to the broader challenges of inequality and underemployment that are proving difficult to tackle with existing policy settings.

 

Daniel Veryard is an economist with the International Transport Forum. He led the project on “Managing the transition to driverless road freight transport” which the ITF conducted jointly with the International Road Transport Union (IRU), the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) and the International Transport Workers’ Federation.