By Barry Lyons
The internet is full of announcements about the introduction of driverless vehicles. Earlier this week it was reported a truck drove from California to Florida without a driver at the controls. The article was accompanied with video footage from behind the passenger seat showing the truck cruising off down the highway without anyone at the wheel. It also had footage from the air, the whole thing looked picture perfect, the future is now the future is driverless. It seems from these many reports that manufacturers will be rolling out this technology in the very near future. A mining company in Alberta Canada announced that it will be letting 150 drivers go as it introduces driverless trucks and is even retrofitting some if its existing fleet to fully automated. A transport operator dream come true.
When you read these articles, you begin to realise that there are many issues not being addressed by journalists. Many articles sound like advertising pieces for manufacturers. Big IT companies are all trying to get their technology out ahead of their competition. My concern about all of this is that the IT and manufacturers know about the role of the truck but what do they know about the role of the professional driver? I t seems that they are looking at road transport like it runs on rails. And that’s what will happen to our motorway network when driverless HGV’s arrive. Our roads will operate like rail lines. Manufacturers have been carrying out trials on platooning a precursor for the driverless HGV. The selling point for platooning was fuel efficiency but there were many other ways of addressing fuel efficiency without the need to clog up our already congested motorways. One interesting point about platooning, from the driver’s perspective, is that it goes against their training as a driver. Driving so close to the vehicle in front is a prosecutable offence, expecting a driver to not do it sometimes but not to do it on other occasions will cause confusion.
As a reader I would like to know is, who is going to be managing these driverless vehicles? What certification will be required for the person in charge of the vehicle? Will they have a HGV licence or a Transport managers certificate of professional competence? Will there be additional qualifications required? Will an operator be able to oversee more than one vehicle at a time? In the event of an accident who will be the responsible person for the vehicle, will it be the operator or an attendant in the vehicle?
When it comes to multi drop work, will driverless work in this sector? What back end changes will have to take place in transport offices to manage these vehicles. When it comes to this technology how secure is it from hacking? What if a terrorist remotely takes control of a petrol tanker will there be systems that can shut the vehicle down?
As technology advances there are many opportunities for new and exciting roles within the road transport industry. There are also some fears about job losses and the demotion of the value of driver jobs in the future. The notion that an industry is going to be automated incorporating artificial intelligence systems may not be the best advertisement to get people to consider it as a career choice. Is it now time for all stakeholders in the industry to discuss what the future may bring and how to prepare considered communications for dissemination aware of the consequences of their effect on attracting the many new drivers that will be required to keep the Industry moving. We will have to be mindful of those who created the Paperless Office and the Millennium Bug and have material in place to counter the many exaggerated claims they will promote.
The role of the driver is not fully understood or in many cases well managed by many players in the road transport industry. Who speaks for the Driver? when Unions speak on their behalf, it’s about jobs, pay and employment conditions. When vehicle manufacturers speak, it’s about selling comfort, power and jackets. When the Road Safety Authority speaks for drivers it’s because know everything about Drivers because the European Commission told them everything. Transport Infrastructure Ireland know everything about the needs of driver road side services because they just do. The only group who know best about drivers are Drivers, but they have no voice.
We have seen the introduction of the Driver CPC which underscores the complexity of the role of today’s professional driver. There are many types of driving roles in road transport. Driving is only one aspect of many of these jobs. It is essential that the role of the professional driver is promoted in a positive way encouraging new people to join. Its drivers that are the best recruiters for this business. If they are respected and feel like they play an important part in the industry they will be best placed to promote it. The European Professional Drives Association are a group of likeminded drivers whose sole aim is to promote the role of the professional driver.