Senators Collins & Reed Concerned About American Workers as Vehicles Become Automated

Senators ask GAO to study impacts of automated vehicles on the future of our economy and workforce

Washington, D.C. - As the era of driverless cars and trucks approaches, U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Jack Reed (D-RI), the Chairman and Ranking Member at the helm the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development (THUD), are asking the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to examine the impact self-driving trucks will have on the two million Americans who currently work as truck drivers and the communities where they live. The Senators also want to know what steps are being taken now to help American truck drivers who may be unseated from their jobs adapt and retrain.

Technology has made America’s manufacturing sector more productive than ever before, but millions of blue-collar manufacturing jobs have been lost to automation. Similarly, the transition to automated vehicles raises questions about the future of the commercial trucking industry and its impact on our national and regional economies and workforce.

Currently, nearly two million people earn their living operating and repairing heavy trucks and tractor-trailers, at an average salary of over $40,000 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These workers tend to be concentrated in more rural states where employment options may be limited. There is also an entire economic ecosystem of businesses and workers whose employment models depend on truck drivers regularly stopping to eat, drink, rest, and refuel that will also be impacted by the shift to driverless cars and trucks.

In their letter, Collins and Reed asked the GAO to examine three key questions:

1. What is known about the speed at which automated vehicle technology may be adopted by businesses to replace the current fleet of vehicles used to transport goods and deliver services? To what extent is the adoption of this technology expected to affect employment levels in related occupations?

2. What is known about differences in the skills and training that will likely be needed by those who operate and maintain vehicles that are automated versus those who operate existing vehicles using a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL)?

3. How are federally-funded employment and training programs, particularly in the regions most likely to be affected by these changes, preparing to assist professional drivers with CDLs whose jobs may be affected and other job seekers who seek training and licensure for the professional driving industry?

In November of 2016, Chairman Collins and Ranking Member Reed held a hearing in the THUD Appropriations Subcommittee on “The Automated and Self-Driving Vehicle Revolution: What is the Role of Government?” The hearing examined the government's role in promoting and regulating this new technology, which could save thousands of lives each year, improve fuel efficiency and reduce pollution, while also providing new transportation options.

“Automated and self-driving vehicles have a number of exciting potentials, from reducing traffic accidents and fatalities to enhancing mobility for seniors and disabled individuals,” said Senator Collins. “Unfortunately, this new technology also carries the risk of negatively affecting the jobs of those who earn a living through driving. It is vital that we fully understand the future impact of automated and self-driving technology so that we are prepared to help workers adapt to this change.”

“We have a responsibility to fulfill this technology’s promise and foster American innovation, while also keeping our roads safe,” Senator Reed noted. “We must also consider the consequences of these technological shifts for American workers and our economy. The impact of autonomous vehicles will be wide ranging and we need a roadmap toward integrating self-driving and autonomous vehicles into our transportation system. We also need a plan to help workers, businesses, and communities that will be impacted by the shift. A detailed analysis from GAO will help us think through how to effectively respond to these shifts and help American workers adapt to inevitable technological change.”

The text of the letter follows:

April 25, 2017

The Honorable Gene Dodaro:
Comptroller General
Government Accountability Office
441 G Street, NW
Washington, D.C., 20548


Dear Comptroller General Dodaro:

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 94 percent of roadway fatalities can be attributed to human error, including driver impairment, distraction, and judgment error. With the increased use of automated vehicles, the safety and reliability of transportation could be greatly enhanced by minimizing the human element of the effort. For example, in the near future, automated vehicles may be used to provide personal transit services, similar to taxis, for individuals or small groups. However, their use in providing reliable freight transit may be adapted sooner -- possibly, as predicted by researchers, in less than a decade.

The transition to the greater use of automated vehicles raises questions about the future of our national and regional economies and workforce. Currently, nearly two million people earn their living operating and repairing heavy trucks and tractors, and they must invest in post-secondary education to gain the certification to legally conduct their trade. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these occupations also allow workers to earn a middle-class income, with median annual salaries around $40,000. Heavier concentrations of these workers tend to be in more rural states where employment options may be limited, and therefore, if these workers and the federally funded programs which support them are unprepared for the technological changes involved in the use of automated vehicles, certain individuals and regional economies could be severely impacted.

Programs authorized under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) serve as a foundation for the nation’s employment and training system. These programs, administered primarily by the Departments of Labor and Education, provide a variety of services to prepare individuals for work and help them improve their prospects in the labor market. For example, the WIOA Adult program provides services including occupational skills training, career counseling, and job searches to adults age 18 and older and the WIOA Dislocated Worker program provides the same services to individuals who anticipate being or have been laid-off or who were self-employed. Eligible service providers for the employment and training system include those who provide training in the skilled trades, including those in the transportation industry. State, regional, and local entities administering employment and training programs are required to strategically plan to align their services with the needs of job seekers and employers and, among other things, use labor market information in this process.

Given the effects that automated vehicles may have on the transportation workforce, we would like GAO to answer the following questions:

1. What is known about the speed at which automated vehicle technology may be adopted by businesses to replace the current fleet of vehicles used to transport goods and deliver services? To what extent is the adoption of this technology expected to affect employment levels in related occupations?

2. What is known about differences in the skills and training that will likely be needed by those who operate and maintain vehicles that are automated versus those who operate existing vehicles using a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL)?

3. How are federally-funded employment and training programs, particularly in the regions most likely to be affected by these changes, preparing to assist professional drivers with CDLs whose jobs may be affected and other job seekers who seek training and licensure for the professional driving industry?

Thank you for your assistance in addressing this request.

Sincerely,



Sen. Susan Collins          Sen. Jack Reed