The trucking industry is kind of a big deal in Indiana — one of every 14 jobs in the state involves trucking, and more than 15,000 trucking companies are located in Indiana. The majority of those companies are small-scale operations, but others are larger and heavily involved in the industry at a national level. No matter the size and scale of an Indiana-based trucking company, however, technological and economic changes often equate industry vulnerability.
For instance, the December 2019 bankruptcy announcement from Celadon Group Inc., based in Indianapolis, reverberated across the nation. The company was North America’s largest provider of international truckload services and employed some 4000 workers, primarily truck drivers. Celadon’s filing of Chapter 11 represents what insiders call history’s most substantial TL bankruptcy. In the trucking world, TL refers to single-item, single-origin transport, rather than the freight of different things from different companies, all in the same trailer.
While the exact reasons why Celadon chose to file for bankruptcy remain unclear, financial mismanagement may be at the crux of the matter. And in a post-Celadon trucking landscape, plenty of questions remain: Who will step in to fill the gaps left behind by Celadon? How do self-driving technology and safety issues fit into the equation?
Trucking: A Complex and Nuanced Landscape
Little is certain in today’s economy, where independent contractors and freelancers are as ubiquitous as traditional salaried workers. In fact, freelancers contributed more than $1 trillion to the US economy. Yet truck drivers still earn comparatively high salaries in a number of states, especially when average per capita income is factored into the equation.
Indiana sits squarely in the top 10 of the best states for truck drivers, as determined by Forbes. It was the only Midwest state to crack the list. Further, Indiana’s annual truck driver’s wage of $46,210 is nearly 13% higher than that of the average worker in the state. Salary figures notwithstanding, the overall truck driver picture isn’t quite so bright across much of the nation, however.
When it comes to trucking, the volatile job market and the popularity of tech-based jobs over trade-based ones has resulted in a national shortage of truck drivers. Currently, the nation lacks about 60,000 truck drivers, and the shortage is expected to increase over the next few years, reports WTHR in Tipton County. Depending on who you ask, the shortage may be fueled by, or is fueling, driverless trucking technology.
The Truth Behind Self-Driving Truck Technology
Depending on who you ask, the national truck driver shortage may be fueled by, or is fueling, driverless trucking technology. Since the concept was first introduced, automated driving technology has been touted as a safer and more efficient alternative to traditional trucking. What’s more, major trucking companies such as Embark and Waymo have already jumped on the self-driving transportation bandwagon.
But we’re still several years away from complete automation. For now, self-driving trucks remain confined to Level 2 status as defined by SAE International: That is, systems including braking, steering, and acceleration are automated, but a human driver must still oversee the driving process and be ready to take the wheel if necessary.
In that respect, modern truck drivers are akin to IT professionals who effectively maintain the operation and security of their vehicles. And as truck driving jobs become more technical, pay raises for drivers are a likely outcome. Job seekers may thus be increasingly attracted to the industry, and we may begin to see a significant reduction in the national truck driver shortage thanks to automation technology.
Keeping Indiana Roadways Safer
But one of the biggest variables when it comes to self-driving technology on Indiana roads is the safety factor. In 2017, commercial vehicles (CVs) were involved in 16% of all fatal collisions statewide, the majority of which occurred on Indiana highways. The harsh reality is that collisions involving CVs are often more severe than collisions involving two or more passenger cars, due to the sheer size of large trucks.
It’s important that everyone on Indiana highways knows what to do in the event of a collision, no matter how severe. Those involved in an accident with a CV should immediately call 911 to request emergency medical services, and take pictures of the accident scene if possible. Determining who is at fault in an accident is much easier when concrete evidence is available. In addition, if the accident involved an autonomous truck, it’s important to make note of that fact.
While self-driving trucks may not reduce inherent roadway dangers such as drunk driving, autonomous technology may indeed improve the safety of everyone on the road. Further, as Level 2 continues to be the approved standard in self-driving tech, we’re seeing an increasing need for trained truck drivers, in Indiana and across the nation. Even in a rapidly changing trucking landscape, Indiana remains an industry leader in trucking safety and job security.