Though many demographics will feel the impact of autonomous vehicles, minorities and workers in certain states in central America will most likely see the biggest changes.
In the not-so-distant future, trucks and taxis rumbling across U.S. streets may not be piloted by experienced human drivers, but complex and intertwined systems of sensors and GPS navigation. Auto manufacturers Ford, Daimler, and BMW have already sped up production of safe and reliable autonomous vehicles, followed closely by tech giants like Google, Uber, and Apple.
It’s not just well-known names trying to replace humans behind the wheel, either. For instance, Starsky Robotics co-founder Stefan Seltz-Axmacher told the Financial Times that he’s working on a self-driving truck. “Our intention is for trucks to move from A to B without a human in the vehicle,” he said. It should be obvious that widespread adoption of technologies of these will have significant market impacts.
Recently, the Center for Global Policy Solutions (CGPS) released research on that same topic, concluding that switchover to self-driving cars and trucks could eliminate some 4 million jobs currently held by bus, delivery, truck, and taxi drivers. Unfortunately, those job losses carry serious economic consequences for several at-risk demographics.
The Ripple Effects of Autonomous Vehicles
CGPS based its estimates on data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey between 2010 and 2014. Of the 4.1 million Americans employed as drivers, 77% steer heavy trucks or delivery vehicles. The remainder are bus drivers (14%) or taxi and chauffeur drivers (8%). Broken down by gender, 3.6 million drivers are male, while 500,000 are female.
If the predicted wave of autonomous vehicles bumps humans from behind the steering wheel, the loss of jobs would disproportionately hurt a few key demographics: African-Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans all rely heavily on driving jobs for steady work, and 93% of affected drivers don’t hold a bachelor’s degree. CGPS calculated 4.23% (652,000) of black Americans hold driving jobs, followed by 3.25% (717,000) of Latinos, and 3.07% (59,000) of Native Americans.
Several states are also in for a nasty surprise if autonomous vehicles overtake the roadways. Not only do North Dakota, Idaho, Wyoming, West Virginia, Mississippi, Arkansas, Iowa, and Indiana have a high number of on-the-road workers, those drivers are often paid quite well for their work.
Accordingly, CGPS advises policymakers to mitigate the economic hardship on those workers by providing job training and other income benefits. “This crisis is likely right around the corner,” said Dr. Maya Rockeymoore, CGPS President and CEO. ”We need a strong safety net that can bolster workers in the event of large-scale, rapid job losses, along with policies that can transition them to new jobs.”
Will Driverless Cars Be Safer?
Manufacturers assert that autonomous vehicles will make the roads safer by reducing human errors that lead to accidents. However, a recent crash of an Uber vehicle in Arizona and last year’s fatal Tesla accident have raised substantial concerns about the safety of these vehicles.
Nevertheless, insurers might soon have to deal with the reality of driverless cars and what this development means for determining risk and premium rates (which may not be a bad thing). If autonomous cars deliver on their promise of crash prevention, insurance underwriters will welcome their introduction — especially after last year’s staggering losses following a record number of auto accidents. Because long-distance truckers spend many hours on the road without proper rest, a driverless truck could prevent serious accidents from sleep-deprived drivers.
Autonomous vehicles still haven’t reached widespread adoption, however, and they may not for another decade. For now, agents should counsel their clients to take advantage of existing technology to drive safely and potentially reduce their premiums. For instance, established insurers like Progressive and insurtech startups are all working to implement data-gathering telematic devices. When placed in autos, these gadgets record a driver’s everyday road habits. If your clients are particularly safe drivers (or drivers who don’t tend to travel many miles), they could see a dramatic premium reduction by installing a telematic device.