The Driver’s Demise

Submitted by Peter Yould
on 03/10/18

The low rumble of diesel-powered semi-trucks could be heard in the distance as I walked
onto the dusty dirt lot of the commercial truck driving school. The excitement of learning how to drive one of these large vehicles mimicked the feeling I felt when I was a young boy playing
with my toy trucks. Now in my mid 20’s and working for an environmental company, packing
and transporting hazardous waste, I found myself training to pass my Class B Commercial Driver’s License test. I felt overqualified. I was a college graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Environmental Science. I thought to myself, “what was somebody with my level of education doing driving a truck professionally?” Most of the other people at the truck driving school could barely speak English and clearly did not have the same academic background that I had.

Regardless of my perceived superiority, as a field chemist, I was expected to segregate hazardous waste based on chemical composition into each hazard class and transport that waste to our company’s staging area miles away. If I wanted to keep my job I would have to successfully complete the truck driving school.
During my time at the truck driving school, I came to admire the hard work that each of
my classmates put in on a daily basis. Most of them worked to overcome the language barrier
and put in hour upon hour of behind the wheel training. Docking a commercial vehicle is by no
means easy, and the finesse that some of these drivers were able to park the large trucks with
inspired me to perfect this skill myself. I began to look at my peers in a new light and grew to
really respect the truck drivers that our transportation industry relies on every day.
A couple months after passing the test and becoming a licensed Class B Commercial
Driver, I read an article about an emerging technology that might put millions of truck drivers
out of a job: self-driving trucks. The initial thought of trucks and cars having the capability of
driving without an operator seemed like a vision torn from the pages of a science-fiction novel.
Yet it was clear from the article that the safety issues and robotic glitches had been resolved, and this technology would be available on a mass scale very soon. Imagine that! A truck that could deliver goods by itself without the need for a driver. Surely the transportation companies would be thrilled to implement the new technology with the benefit of protecting their shareholders from the burden of paying for drivers.

Now, as with any new technology, start-up costs would need to be considered. Would the
money saved from reducing the number of employees be superseded by the price of buying new
self-driving trucks? Initially this may be the case, but as the autonomous vehicles become more
prevalent the price will surely drop and trucks and cars that require drivers will be phased out.
What does that mean for people in the transportation industry like me? Well that’s what
lead me to write this scholarship proposal. After realizing that the trucking industry would likely be changing drastically over the next decade or so, I decided to go back to school and focus my efforts on a Juris Doctorate degree. Labor law and environmental policy are topics that are meaningful to me because of my work experiences. Developing the skills and training necessary to become a practicing lawyer will be a challenge, but by taking small incremental steps towards my ultimate goal it will be possible.

My situation is by no means the normal trajectory of a commercial driver. Most drivers
are happy with their careers, earning fair wages with minimal education. An estimated 3 million Americans earn their living through driving, transportation, or delivery. With robotics playing a more significant role in the transportation industry we will see the demise of the truck driver.

These workers will be out of work and many will be underqualified to transfer into other roles of similar pay.
A solution that I urge those in the transportation industry to consider is implementing
scholarships and funding for those drivers that are interested in further education. Some may
want to earn engineering degrees while others may want to become certified mechanics. Practical vocational training or higher education can be expensive and time-consuming, but if employers are willing to use some of the increased profits from the use of robotics to support their employees in higher education, those workers would be able to grow and develop the companies in other areas like maintenance and design.
As an advocate for employees’ rights and the health and safety of our public, I am excited
about my own path of higher education. With a law degree, I will be more informed about the
legal nuances of our policies and regulations. My plan is to represent the rights of employees
while maintaining an impartial view towards the goals and aspirations of corporations and their leaders. A balanced and compassionate approach is critical to any successful solution to our society’s myriad issues.

We live in an ever-shifting and extremely dynamic world. Our business management
techniques must take this fact into consideration when planning for the future. Technology will
make our lives much more efficient, but we will need to invest our free time into education.
Education can come in the form of our traditional college system, a resurgence of vocational
schools and training programs, or as more introspective and self-reflective holistic health and
wellness projects. The type of education we seek does not necessarily need to lead us to loans
and libraries, it may be the type of education which leads us to life and liberty. In any case, we
need to inspire each other every day to live our best lives. We must strive to hold each other
accountable to our goals. Careful preparation for the future will be rewarded with economic and social well-being.

Submitted by Peter Yould
on 03/10/18

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