Driverless Trucks Are Not an Option Now for Drayage

Driverless technology has already entered the consumer vehicle marketplace, with driver-assisted technology.  But if you have been following the news, the technology behind driverless vehicles is anything but perfect for passenger vehicles. 

The trucking industry has placed a skilled professional driver behind every load of commercial freight in American since the early 1930s. But it was when America developed our network of quality interstate highways, that the industry grew into the important commercial lifeline that it is today, helping businesses efficiently acquire raw materials, supplies, and retail products.

The concept of a driverless commercial truck is appealing for one reason; without a driver, there is no need to stop for the mandatory rest breaks and HOS regulations that are now in effect across the United States.  But amid all the hype about driverless commercial trucks, there is little discussion about the risks involved and the detriments of removing an experienced CDL operator from the service. 

As driverless logistics companies enter the market, it is important for businesses to understand the value that a commercial driver brings to the quality of drayage services they receive.

An Interesting History of Trucking in America

President Franklin D. Roosevelt recognized that to grow the American economy, he needed to address logistics at a capital investment level.  President Roosevelt recognized that America’s growing industrial complex was stifled by one thing; the ability to quickly and efficiently move drayage goods to manufacturers and retailers across the Nation.

In 1933, President Roosevelt created a legislation package called the “New Deal” and the “National Recovery Administration”. By that time, the American Highway Freight Association and the Federated Trucking Associations of America were already established.    The two organizations would later merge to form the American Trucking Associations.

The first President of the American Trucking Associations (ATA) was a man named Ted Rogers, and he was the first commercially licensed trucker to sign the code.  By 1935, the Motor Carrier Act was passed, which replaced an earlier “Code of Fair Competition” that governed the growing American trucking industry.  

The new Motor Carrier Act was governed by the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to effectively regulate the trucking industry, and laws were passed that limited HOS (hours of service) for commercial passenger and freight truck drivers. 

The Introduction of Regulations and Interstate Highways

In 1941, President Roosevelt designated a special team to study and then implement a national highway system. This progress stopped during World War II, but by 1954, President Eisenhower (born in Denison Texas), revitalized the program and efforts made by President Roosevelt.  The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1944 built what we now see as a quality transportation link across the country, through Interstate Highways.

When determining the speed limit that commercial trucks could safely travel on interstate highways in America, a study was conducted that set a limit of just over 73,000 pounds.  A man named Malcolm McLean was responsible for organizing the first intermodal shipping services of containers between trucks, ships, and trains in the United States.  In the late 1950s, further testing determined the threshold of cargo weight for commercial transport, based on safety limits for bridges and to protect highways and roads from damage by overweight capacity loads.  The Federal-Aid Highway Amendments of 1974 raised the federal maximum gross vehicle weight to 80,000 pounds per truck, with a weight-to-length chassis ration.

The economic recovery in America after World War II had a great deal to do with the rapid development of the trucking industry.  The intermodal transit between ocean vessels to trucks and rail made accessing merchandise, building materials, medical supplies and equipment for easier, and more cost-effective.  This, in turn, leads to the growth of all related industries, job creation and increased variety of consumer goods at better prices for Americans, thanks to volume freight.

By the year 1970, there were 18 million heavy trucks in operation and delivering drayage services and freight on American highways.  Today, there are an estimated 15.5 million Class 8 transport trucks in active service, employing 8.9 million Americans as drivers, or in drayage and commercial freight-related services.

The Value of an Experienced CDL Truck Driver in Commercial Drayage

Behind the wheel of every commercial heavy truck, is a driver that has gone through professional training and certification.  At Canal Cartage, we partner with owner-operators who must pass a strict background screening, including a review of safety records to ensure that each dispatch has a qualified, safe and efficient driver we know, and trust.

When it comes to driverless trucks in the logistics industry, what proponents are not telling you, is that it is likely a decade or longer before these vehicles can become a significant service option for businesses that rely on commercial drayage.

1. Cargo Theft

Did you know that a recent report by Sensitech revealed that in the second business quarter of 2018, there were 157 cargo thefts reported in America and in Canada?   The average value of per theft incident was $186,779 (US) or just under $30 million dollars in business loss.

The most common stolen goods from heavy trucks and semi-trailers are building supplies, appliances, food, alcohol and tobacco products and tools. While driverless trucks would have sensors to detect an illegal access to cargo, there is nothing that could help the truck prevent the loss, short of contacting the authorities as part of the alarm system. 

Having a live and security trained CDL trucker with your cargo at all times helps to deter theft, and if an attempted theft happens, they can take immediate action to help avoid loss.

2. Mitigating Drayage Issues with Documentation

Customs paperwork and the forms required for drayage pick up and drop off can be complicated.  And sometimes, the forms and information provided are not accurate or sufficient to avoid issues at the Port.  That’s when you need a qualified driver to contact dispatch and work to correct documentation provided by the commercial customer and get the shipment back on track for prompt delivery.

3. Safe Drayage Load and Unload Supervision

Sometimes loss and damage occur during drayage loading and off-loading.  If for instance, a Port worker in a forklift drops your fragile cargo, a driver is there to make note of the incident for insurance purposes, and to file a report.  What would happen if there was no driver there to intercede to protect the integrity of the shipment? Do you think the Port shipper would report the incident themselves if there were no witnesses?

Having a driver with your cargo at all times protects your commercial goods.  Because accidents happen, but the freight owner should not be left with a shipment of broken goods and a dispute for compensation from the freight insurer, where there is no eyewitness to the event.

4. Driving in Bad Weather Conditions

Innovators of driverless technology (both commercial and consumer transportation) will be the first to tell you that it cannot replace experience and common-sense safety maneuvers in bad weather.  Heavy rain, snow and ice, and even strong wind can create significant risks for a freight shipment.  An experienced driver will decide regarding the safety of the cargo, and the safety of everyone on the road, and pull over rather than compromise either.

Another factor to consider when you hear speculative discussions about driverless drayage services is the technology overhaul that will be required to make this an option in the future.  That means the development of special lanes, data storage and load reading technology that will have to be innovated and then installed at every major port across the United States. 

Could driverless heavy truck technology help make the job easier for CDL truckers in Texas? In the future, the assistance that these software platforms offer could definitely help make the job (and our industry) even more efficient.   But they will not replace the experience, critical decisions and thinking strategies and safety expertise that professional truckers provide to our industry, and our commercial customers.

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