Autonomous truck technology — what it is and what it means


“Container trucks on an American highway” by is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Many transportation and logistics industry observers believe that #semi-autonomous trucks could be ubiquitous on North American highways within five to 10 years, with fully #driverless trucks commonplace by 2030. These vehicles will likely to have profound implications for supply chains, transportation capacity, trucking employment, public safety, and modal competitors.

As a primer, this blog aims to promote increased public awareness and engagement with regards to #autonomous trucking and to foster informed debate about how fully driverless trucking technology should be implemented

Simply put, autonomous vehiclesand by extension, autonomous trucksare driverless vehicles that do not require human monitoring or interaction. These vehicles use technologies to replace the human as driver, such as sensors to detect obstacles, software algorithms to make driving decisions, and electronic equipment to brake, accelerate, and steer the vehicle. [Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators (CCMTA); CCMTA White Paper Automated Vehicles in Canada:]

There are a range of views on the likely impact of this #disruptive technology.

Advocates argue the technology will improve highway safety, address the #trucking industry’s driver shortage, enhance productivity and economic efficiency, and improve the physical environment, [American Transportation Research Institute; Identifying Autonomous Vehicle Technology Impacts on the Trucking Industry:], as well as generate higher-skilled employment opportunities in trucking.

Others are less sanguine, however – they point out that the technology could eliminate lower-skilled employment in the trucking industry, add more trucks to already-congested urban centres and accordingly devalue the environment, and pose significant issues regarding personal privacy and data sharing.

Then there are many questions about how autonomous vehicle technology will be rolled out in the mid- and long-term:

  • How will the technology be regulated to ensure the public interest is best served? How will public infrastructure be affected? Clearly there will be a significant public cost to accommodate a new private-sector technology.
  • How should all automated vehicles, including trucks, be programmed to address ethical issues? Some have termed this the #“moral algorithm” question. [Stuart Young, Gowling WLG;]
  • How will the traditional insurance industry deal with autonomous vehicles, in that risk will shift from human behavior to malicious third party, software, hardware and infrastructure risk issues?
  • How will railways – trucking’s chief competitors in North America — deal with the competitive challenge of autonomous trucks, particularly to their domestic rail intermodal container services and some of their merchandise businesses? The loss of such rail traffic could see an increase in truck traffic on key highway corridors, thus exacerbating urban road congestion.

This blog will address these issues in following installments. I welcome your feedback and input and invite you to say hello to me on my Twitter account.

Also see Dan Goodwill & Associates Transportation Consulting Blog at