We all know it's coming. We just don't know when and exactly how. The technology behind vehicle automation is already proven, with numerous tests having been carried out on roads around the world and for which, to date, have resulted in no major incidents or collisions.
However, test conditions (even on high speed public roads) cannot replicate the complexity of driving in congested, unpredictable environments. In order to achieve zero incident rates with automated vehicles it will require a level of infrastructure and development that will prove both costly and time-consuming.
Perhaps there's an interim moment. One where we find that because of the need for automated vehicles to talk to one another it becomes necessary to phase in this technology. Let's face it; how long will it take to agree on the regulation and red tape that governs self-driving trucks? What about cross-border recognition? Will the public be confident that they're sufficiently protected by electronics as opposed to a human brain?
What we also need to think about is the role of a driver. Many industry thinkers believe that we're just a few years away from fully autonomous trucks and that there's little point focusing on the driver shortage, but personally speaking I think we're still some way off. We should use the time wisely, to understand the skills that a driver will need and how we can promote the industry to younger people with this tech in mind.
It may be that we end up with a situation where trucks are fully autonomous on high speed roads but that a driver takes over for the last mile or for driving in urban areas. This would work for most people and provide a level of reassurance until we're all used to the idea.
In any case let's take the opportunity to attract new drivers rather than dissuade them, and to engage with current professional drivers and ensure that they're ready for the future.