From big rigs to buses, millions of American workers currently earn a living driving vehicles. Someday, self-driving systems could make their jobs obsolete.
Whether the transition from human drivers to automated ones results in severe layoffs that occur in a short time frame or as smaller disruptions over decades is a simmering question, the answer to which carries substantial implications for affected workers and the U.S. economy writ large.
"We can argue about the scope and timeline, but what we can't argue about is that this is a reality," Meera Joshi, acting administrator at the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, said in remarks at the agency's research and technology forum this month. "There will be a major shift in work force."
A pair of studies issued this year by the department found there's "vast uncertainty" about the nature of that shift and impact of its disruption on approximately 4.5 million commercial drivers, though both conclude there are no imminent large-scale layoffs coming because of automated-driving technology.