September 25, 2017 10:15 PM, EDT

Drivers to Remain Necessary Despite Advancements in Autonomous Vehicles, ATA Policy Expert Says

ATA's Mike Cammisa Cammisa by Eugene Mulero/Transport Topics

ATLANTA — The trucking industry will continue to depend on drivers to assist with the navigation of autonomous and connected truck fleets, a policy expert at American Trucking Associations said at the Connected Fleets USA conference Sept. 25.

Manufacturers are rushing to perfect trucks capable of functioning autonomously, while a growing number of fleets are turning their attention to platooning systems for longhaul trips.

“We’re looking at this technology right now as more of a driver-assist feature, make the drivers more safe and more productive,” said Mike Cammisa, vice president of safety policy and connectivity at ATA.

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“We also hope it’s going to extend the careers of some of the older drivers, as opposed to putting them out of jobs. And we’re also hoping that’s going to attract younger drivers to the job of driving a truck,” Cammisa added.

ATA officials continue to insist a driver-assist model will dominate the industry in the years ahead, addressing concerns over the technology’s potential to create a driverless marketplace for trucks.

A massive shortage of drivers weighs heavily on the industry. ATA determined in an analysis the industry is short 48,000 drivers. The driver shortage is a matter urgently in need of a resolution, the American Transportation Research Institute also concluded in a recent report.

Steve Boyd, co-founder and vice president of external affairs at Peloton, emphasized the adoption of platooning systems in certain states would help achieve the least-appealing tasks of longhaul assignments. A massive disruption in the trucking industry’s workforce is unlikely, he added, speaking on a panel prior to Cammisa’s keynote address.

“We see a very important, ongoing role for operators in the vehicles for the period ahead,” Boyd said.

Earlier this month, federal agencies hosted a platooning demonstration on Interstate 66 in Northern Virginia as a way of showcasing the technology’s capabilities as companies prepare for deployment next year. Platooning systems entail one or two trucks following a lead truck linked via wireless communication. Drivers operating the non-lead trucks monitor the autonomous performance.