How Self-Driving Trucks Will Change America

June 13th 2015

Thor Benson

Many professions may be quickly hurtling toward automation. Robots may soon flip your burgers, farm your land, or paint your house. Imagine a time when robots grow the food, package it...and deliver it.

This could be a problem for truck drivers. And, according to the Planet Money team at NPR , truck driving was the most popular job in 2014 for most states. Take a look at the map they created:

statesThat's a lot of truck driving. In fact, the industry collects over $650 billion in revenue every year. It's a growing industry, but one that could change drastically with changing technology.

According to Quartz, almost 9 million jobs rely on the truck driving industry. With self-driving trucks, automation could soon replace people driving light and heavy trucks in the transportation industry. Beyond that, many restaurants and entire towns depend on the truck driving industry to support them. (Think about it: Robots don't need to grab a coffee and eggs on their way to a destination.) The effect of self-driving trucks will be massive and it will ripple through many trades.

A truck that is human-operated with autopilot capabilities has already been approved for U.S. roads and is being tested in Nevada. And Morgan Stanley claims autonomous vehicles will be littering city and interstate roads by 2022.

While this development does put a lot of jobs at risk, it could also save a lot of lives. Truck drivers often have to drive long hours and suffer from fatigue. As we saw with the recent truck accident that injured Tracy Morgan, the results can be dire . Around 4,000 people die every single year because of truck driving accidents, and it is believed that the vast majority of these accidents were caused by driving mistakes. Automated trucks could reduce the death toll.

Another benefit of self-driving trucks is the cost of goods. If a company like Costco doesn't have to pay drivers to transport its products, it can take that cost out of the equation when it sets its prices. Once the manufacturing side of the business is fully automated, the price could go down significantly.

The truck driving market is expected to grow 21 percent by 2020, and there is currently a shortage of drivers. Therefore, in the short-term, truck driving will remain a large part of the job market. How will it look by 2030? Well, it's unclear what the truck driving job market will be, if there will be one.