Why Self-Driving Trucks Don’t Add Up

With the introduction of self-driving cars in some countries, many in the trucking industry have started to consider using automated, self-driving technology. They hope to eliminate the cost of having a human driving and operating the vehicle. Without a human driving, there would also be no limitations on driving hours. Increased productivity at a significantly lower cost sounds great, but is it feasible? Are truck drivers really at risk for losing their jobs?

“Governments have shown a lot of interest in accommodating driverless vehicles, but as we are seeing with the introduction of drones, the supporting regulatory process is slow and often unwieldy,” says Yossi Sheffi, Professor of Engineering Systems at MIT, and Director of the MIT Center for Transportation & Logistics

Issues with Self-Driving Technology

Despite the fact that many trucking companies are pushing self-driving trucks, there are still many flaws to the technology. Many experts believe fully automated trucks will not be on the road anytime soon because there are still many trucking-specific issues to consider:

  • Non-driving tasks (Making deliveries, checking on cargo, fixing equipment, etc.)
  • Considering other drivers’ intentions at intersections, and being inefficient if they always give the right of way to other vehicles
  • Off-highway miles often require drivers to travel partially outside of the white or yellow lines
  • Accuracy in reading car signals and road lines during various weather
  • Responsibility for crashes/accidents


Self-driving technology could be an efficient addition to the trucking industry, but it would only be partial automation. A self driving truck would need to be paired with a human operator to account for all the non-driving tasks and off-highway miles that would need special attention. Two types of partial automation that are being considered include lane-centering steering and adaptive cruise control. These are referred to as “Exit-to-Exit” or E2E, and would only be available for highway miles. This is a result of the fact that trucks commonly have to travel outside road lines, which would go against the instructions in self-driving software.

Currently, truck drivers can only work a maximum of 14 hours: 11 hours of driving time and 3 hours of “on-duty” time for other tasks. With the possible addition of E2E, driving time spent utilizing these features could be considered non-driving time. This would make each shift for a driver significantly more efficient, allowing miles to be traveled as the driver handles other tasks. Though these solutions sounds effective, each still has some limitations.

Many in the trucking industry believe that automated trucks could be an productive and cost-effective change for the industry. But the technology for fully-automated trucks without a human operator is just not available right now, and likely will not be for many years. Alternate features are being considered to implement partial-automation into the trucking industry, but even these have their setbacks and are not yet ready to be put into effect, and truck drivers do not have cause for worry.