Last night my wife Liz and I went out to a local restaurant for dinner. We like to sit at the bar as service is often quicker and you can talk to the people next to you.

I struck up a conversation with the person sitting on my right. He (let’s call him SH) has been in the trucking industry for 25 years and will retire in perhaps 3-4 years. SH agrees with me that major changes are coming.
Anonymous Truck Driver Soon to be Gone

Image from Job Descriptions for a Heavy Haul Driver.

SH is a short-haul trucker. By his description of what he does, SH fits the standard definition of long-haul. However, there are no industry-wide hauling definitions.

The above link says “These terms don’t have strict definitions but short-haul trucking often involves driving within a 150-mile radius. Long-haul drivers usually have a driving radius of 250 miles or more.”

SH drives hub-to-hub, never to end destinations. He defines short haul simply as the ability to return home every night. His limiting factor is 11 hours, the maximum amount of continuous driving.

For now, new terms are needed. I propose short haul as local, mid haul as what SH does, and long haul which I define as away from home over 11 hours.

Definitions aside, we got to talking about self-driving vehicles and he believes, as I do, that major disruptions will come sooner than most people expect.

SH’s Job Routine

  1. SH drives his car to a trucking hub.
  2. He picks up a loaded truck and drives 4-5 hours in one direction.
  3. He drops off the load at a designated hub.
  4. He picks up a load or another truck that someone else dropped off.
  5. He drives that load back 4-5 hours at his starting hub.
  6. SH picks up his car and drives home.

Drivers Not Needed

Why is SH needed?

Currently, drivers are required.

The moment drivers are not required, the cost of the driver, the cost of the driver’s benefits, and the mandated down time will all go away.

In addition to the 11-hour limit, there are many additional restrictions as noted by the FMCSA Summary of Hours of Service Regulations.

Particularly limiting is the 60/70-Hour Limit: “Property carrying drivers may not drive after 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days. A driver may restart a 7/8 consecutive day period after taking 34 or more consecutive hours off duty.”

Decision Factors

  1. Current Setup: The cost of the driver and benefits. The cost of maintenance. The cost of fuel. The cost of insurance. The limit of 11 hours of daily driving and a maximum of 60 hours in seven days.
  2. Self-Driving, Electric: Cost of the electric truck. The cost of the autonomous hardware and software. Lower maintenance costs (electric motors gave far fewer parts). Lower insurance costs.
  3. Self-Driving, Fuel: The cost of the autonomous hardware and software.

Time Frame

As soon as the benefits of getting rid of the driver exceed the associated costs, change will happen amazingly fast.

I glean from my conversation with SH that the infrastructure hubs for option 3 are already in place. Thus, the limiting factor for option 3 is approval by the department of transportation.

Electric recharging stations may be another matter. I failed to ask about recharging capacity.

Using my definitions, the medium and long haul drivers will all vanish as soon as autonomous vehicles are approved for highway travel.

At the hubs, some additional people may be needed for maintenance, charging, switching loads etc, but the drivers will be gone.

The hub model works even if drivers are needed to make the final dropoff.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock