The trucking industry is the lifeblood of the American economy, worth hundreds of billions of dollars. With about 71% of all freight in America being moved by truck, it is a vital piece of the American way of life. The nationwide shortage of truck drivers has had its toll on trucking and every industry that depends on it. According to the American Trucker’s Association’s Driver Shortage Update 2021, there were 80,000 fewer drivers on the road than needed. 

The driver shortage has no single cause. Rather, it’s a confluence of multiple factors. The average age of current drivers has been climbing, leading to a high number of retirements from the industry. Recruitment of new drivers is hindered by the federally mandated minimum age of 21 to commercially drive across state lines. The pandemic further lowered enrollment in truck driver training schools in 2020. Infrastructure issues such as congestion and a lack of parking for drivers’ rest breaks also contribute to this shortage.

The Driver Shortage Update goes on to estimate that, should current trends continue, the driver shortage will double the current deficit by 2030. The industry will need to recruit 1,000,000 new drivers to fill in the holes left by those who are leaving. At this rate, it’s clear that the trucking industry is in trouble. The manpower to keep up with the demand and allow it to grow is simply not there. 

The Importance of Autonomous Trucks

This is why autonomous trucking is so important to the logistics of the American economy. Autonomous trucks can fill in the gaps left behind as more truck drivers exit the workforce. Unlike human drivers, autonomous trucks aren’t held back by the same restrictions—both regulatory and physical. 

Human drivers are restricted to no more than 70 hours over the course of eight days, wherein they are expected to travel between 2,000 to 3,000 miles. Autonomous trucks don’t have the same limitations. In a recent example, an autonomous truck, with a safety driver on board, completed a 951-mile route in just 14 hours and 6 minutes. Comparatively, a human driver alone averages over 24 hours on that same route. 

Shaving 10 or more hours off of a single route can be game-changing. Even with a safety driver on board, this was a huge moment for the industry. That being said, with new solutions often come new challenges. 

Work Zone Safety

Imagine this: an autonomous truck is driving its route, a safety driver behind the wheel. When the truck approaches an active work zone, perhaps the safety driver takes control, guiding the vehicle through the construction, or, the truck might continue on autonomously, unaware of the chaos that may lay before it. 

Now, imagine instead: the autonomous truck is traveling that same route, with the same safety driver on board. Several miles ahead, the work zone has updated its lane lines to merge traffic to the right. Through Level 4 V-Markings, the new marking locations, as well as the best route through the work zone, are available in real-time to the autonomous truck. Now this very first autonomous truck to traverse the work zone is able to do so safely and confidently. The safety driver did not have to take control. 

Safety is critical. Providing an autonomous truck with the best route through upcoming work zones before any vehicle has yet driven through it saves on trial and error, cutting back on the number of work zone accidents and protecting work crews and others on the road.

The Future of Autonomy

Ideal conditions will not always be there, and many envision an autonomous future where no safety drivers are required. To achieve that, maps would need to be infallible. They would need to have access to a virtual representation of the real world—a digital twin of the world’s roads. With that, autonomous trucks can navigate the world safely and confidently. That safer future is a core pillar of V-Markings’ goals. 

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