A report just published by insurance firm AXA UK has found that deploying new automated trucks on our roads could save the UK economy some £34 billion.
The savings would be shared across businesses, but consumers would also feel the benefit, according to the findings.
Savings across the board
These cost reductions would come from savings in fuel, insurance, labour and more efficient vehicle use, and they could rise to as much as $47.5 billion within a decade.
The claims are made in a report entitled ‘The Future of Driverless Haulage’ published by AXA UK.
The report points out that the logistics industry in the UK employs more than two million people, making it one of the most important employment sectors in the country.
The industry in total contributes £55 billion to the economy, of which £23 billion is generated from the UK’s road haulage fleet of some 450,000 vehicles.
In an industry that has been lobbying government to fund training to combat a chronic driver shortage, the future outlined in the report presents a rather more radical solution.
That said, the report claims that lorry drivers will not be entirely redundant.
It suggests that drivers will still be needed for complex driving, loading and unloading manoeuvres at the beginning and end of journeys and also to complete administration tasks associated with these deliveries.
They may also be required to troubleshoot technical difficulties should they arise and carry out on-the-spot fixes.
The report does admit that the introduction of driverless trucks would reduce the need for drivers – not because they would be absent from the cab, but because better utilisation of trucks would reduce the size of the fleet required.
The report, however, points to an ageing driver population and acknowledges the current shortage of drivers, drawing the conclusion that the reduction in driver numbers could be achieved without the need for any compulsory redundancies.
Further savings would be obtained from reduced fuel costs, as computers would always drive the trucks in the most efficient manner possible. Trucks could also be driven in close convoy or ‘platoons’ in order to reduce wind resistance and hence lower fuel consumption.
AXA also says that insurance costs for hauliers would plummet, as driverless lorries would experience far fewer accidents due to the removal of human error from haulage operations. This in turn would lead to fewer claims, lower costs to the insurance companies and savings that could be passed on to hauliers in the form of reduced policy payments.
Driverless lorries would also be freed from the limiting constraints of legal driver working hours, so they could operate for longer and hence greatly improve productivity.
Taken together, these cost reductions make up the huge savings being reported.
Although the report claims that lorry drivers would not be eliminated altogether, it should be remembered that at least one truck manufacturer is currently experimenting with the idea of a convoy of trucks with only the vehicle at the front having a driver.
Whilst not resulting in a complete absence of drivers, the number required would be far smaller.