Study Says Autonomous Cars Could Impact US Jobs

Millions of drivers could have trouble finding alternative employment, authors say.

A new government study predicts that about one in nine US workers will be affected “to varying degrees” by the eventual emergence of automated vehicles.

The Employment Impact of Autonomous Vehicles, published by the US Economics and Statistics Administration last week, contends that millions of dedicated vehicle operators will face the greatest risk, whereas others, such as police officers and plumbers who drive only as a part of their jobs, will not be as profoundly affected.

“Our findings suggest that workers in some driving occupations might have difficulty finding alternative employment,” the authors wrote. In this category, it cited truck drivers, bus drivers, taxi drivers, ambulance drivers, and chauffeurs. In 2015, there were 3.8 million such US workers, the study said. It added that “workers in motor vehicle jobs are older, less educated, and for the most part have fewer transferrable skills than other workers …”

Jobs Most Affected 2015 Employment
Heavy tractor-trailer drivers 3,796,110
Light truck or delivery drivers 1,678,280
Bus drivers, schools 826,510
Driver/sales worker 505,230
Taxi drivers/chauffeurs 180,750
Bus drivers/transit and inter-city 168,140
Ambulance drivers (except emergency techs) 19,730

A second group, for which driving is only a part of their job, would not be impacted as harshly, the study said. “For this group, although driving is an important work activity, it is only one of many important work activities, many of which already require the kinds of non-routine cognitive skills that are becoming increasingly in demand in our economy,” the authors wrote. “Such workers are likely to be able to adapt to the widespread adoption of (autonomous vehicles).” Those workers, which accounted for about 11.7 million US jobs in 2015, include police officers, firefighters, electricians, plumbers, mechanics, childcare workers, and personal care aides, among others.

The study comes at a time when some Silicon Valley leaders have begun supporting the idea of a “universal basic income” for all Americans, largely because they believe many jobs will be displaced in the future by robots and automation. Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield, and others have said that basic government support will be necessary for virtually all Americans in the future.

The new study did not make any such recommendations, nor did it suggest how displaced workers might be re-employed. It did, however, acknowledge that a move to autonomous vehicles could foster the creation of new types of jobs. “Therefore, although new technologies such as AVs have the potential to eliminate jobs, they can also increase demand for some tasks and perhaps lead to demands for entirely new tasks, some of which may require new skills,” the authors wrote.


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