Lorry Driver Shortage: Are Driverless Trucks The Answer?

Lorry Driver Shortage: Are Driverless Trucks The Answer?

The news has been full of stories recently regarding the shortage of truck and lorry drivers. According to a recent Road Haulage Association survey, there are now over 100,000 vacancies which equate to about 16% of the total number of drivers. As truck and commercial vehicle insurance quote specialists, we’ve heard first-hand accounts of the problems this is causing. A farmer of our acquaintance told us how two of his employees who held HGV licenses left his long-term employment after being offered salaries of £57,000 – more than he earned. National brands including Nando’s, B.P., and Iceland have been forced to close outlets as supplies fail to materialise. The situation is approaching a crisis point, and with driver recruitment difficult and the training process lasting between 8-10 weeks, it’s not one that’s likely to be solved quickly.

So, what has caused this problem, and what are the possible solutions? Given logistics is such a vital part of Nottingham’s economy, employing over 41,000, it’s an issue that concerns us all.

In this latest blog from Coversure Nottingham, Nottingham’s leading truck and commercial vehicle insurance broker, we’ll look at how we came to be in this situation and ask, are driverless trucks the answer?

How Did The Lorry Driver Shortage Arise?

The lorry driver shortage has been with us for some time. The problem was raised in the Brexit debate as pre-referendum 60,000 E.U. drivers were working in the U.K. Us voting Leave made many many drivers decided to do the same. The Traffic Commission estimated a shortage of around 45,000 drivers pre-Brexit so it’s clear it’s had a serious impact.

Brexit isn’t solely responsible, though. In 2018 it was estimated that 50 UK drivers a day were leaving the industry, citing low pay, long hours, time away from home, and constantly changing schedules as the primary reasons for doing so.

The Impact on Nottingham’s Economy

According to the Government’s figures, haulage is worth £124bn to the U.K. economy and contributes hundreds of millions to the Nottinghamshire economy. Over the past 12 months, dozens of new logistics operations, warehouses, and courier hubs have opened as the East Midlands continues to assert its dominance as the U.K.‘s transport centre. The shortage of drivers could have a significant long-term impact on the viability of these businesses and has raised calls by many for something to be done. The question is, what?

Are Driverless Trucks The Answer?

Haulage firms are now offering increased wages to try and attract and retain drivers. While this is having an impact, the underlying problem is that people don’t want to be truck drivers. One former HGV driver told the BBC, ‘They could pay me £80,000 a year and, I still wouldn’t do it. I just want out.’ It’s a hard and often lonely life, so what’s the solution?

Better pay, improved conditions through clearer scheduling, and shorter, UK-based trips will all help in the short term. But given the driver shortage trend is one that’s been growing over several years, this probably won’t solve the problem entirely. What might be required is a radical technological solution that could transform the industry, cut costs, and deliver a more sustainable haulage industry; driverless trucks.

In 2014 the Government committed itself to making the U.K. a leader in electric and autonomous vehicles. They have been testing driverless lorries since 2017, and in May 2019, 25-tonners were put to work on the A14 roadworks in Cambridgeshire. Firms such as Emride, Embark, Daimler, Ford, Waymo (Google), and Tesla (of course) all have autonomous trucks in development or in road testing. Daimler has pledged to make “highly automated driving a reality within a decade. At the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show, they announced they would invest more than $570 million into autonomy over the coming years. Embark is already operating a fleet of autonomous trucks to haul loads between Los Angeles and Arizona (albeit with human drivers behind the wheel).

What Are The Advantages of Autonomous Trucks?

Aside from the obvious advantage of not needing a driver (at present they do need someone there but its envisaged that will pass in time), there are several other advantages associated with driverless lorries:

Improved efficiency – no driver means no rest stops, no wages, and no holiday pay. In theory at least these trucks can be on the road so long as they are charged and have a load to carry

Improved safety – a U.S. study by the University of Michigan found that over 90% of all motor accidents involve human error. Remove the human, reduce the chances of an accident, and save lives and money into the bargain

Reduced insurance costs – truck insurance cover adds a significant cost to hauliers. If these vehicles do prove to be safer, then we can expect to see the cost of cover coming down

More environmentally friendly – not only will these lorries be electrically powered so slashing emission levels, but they will also be efficiently driven at all times. This could deliver real benefits to cities with air quality issues, such as Nottingham

A more sustainable logistics industry – everyone knows that the current logistics model is damaging the environment. Diesel is the primary power source of trucks and these contribute over 30% of all traffic emissions despite representing only a small percentage of vehicle volumes. As Daimler puts it, said at the time this technology will “(driverless trucks will) improve safety, boost the performance of logistics and offer a great value proposition to the customers – and thus contribute considerably to a sustainable future of transportation.”

Lorry Driver Shortage: Are Driverless Trucks The Answer?

In the short term the answer to this question is no. While the technology is advancing quickly and there is political support for it, safety concerns and public trust will take time to win over. The tests done in the U.K. thus far have been held away from traffic and, crucially in this context, a driver still needs to be in the cab. Over the long term, they will undoubtedly have a role to play, especially as big logistics players like Amazon and DHL have signaled their keenness to deploy them.

Realistically the only way we will solve the current crisis is by firms improving conditions and the Government granting E.U. lorry drivers temporary work visas. They have consistently rejected calls for this to happen and have instead offered to create more training places for drivers. The industry is also calling for additional staff at the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency to help get newly qualified drivers on the road more quickly.

With demand for goods to be delivered rising fast in the post-pandemic world, the need for couriers, truck, and HGV drivers has never been more acute. For Nottingham, it’s a boom time, but if the driver situation isn’t resolved soon, it could threaten the city’s economic prosperity.

Likes Some Commercial Vehicle Insurance Help?

If you’d like a competitive quote on high-quality commercial vehilce or truck insurance, then please get in touch. Our experienced team will be more than happy to help you get the cover you need for an affordable premium. To find out more, please call Coversure Nottingham on 0115 8370984. or start your truck insurance quote here.

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