Study Says Autonomous Cars Could Impact US Jobs

New government study says millions of motor vehicle operators could have trouble finding alternative employment when autonomous vehicles arrive.

Charles Murray

August 22, 2017

2 Min Read
Study Says Autonomous Cars Could Impact US Jobs

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


Light truck or delivery drivers


Bus drivers, schools


Driver/sales worker


Taxi drivers/chauffeurs


Bus drivers/transit and inter-city


Ambulance drivers (except emergency techs)


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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About the Author(s)

Charles Murray

Charles Murray is a former Design News editor and author of the book, Long Hard Road: The Lithium-Ion Battery and the Electric Car, published by Purdue University Press. He previously served as a DN editor from 1987 to 2000, then returned to the magazine as a senior editor in 2005. A former editor with Semiconductor International and later with EE Times, he has followed the auto industry’s adoption of electric vehicle technology since 1988 and has written extensively about embedded processing and medical electronics. He was a winner of the Jesse H. Neal Award for his story, “The Making of a Medical Miracle,” about implantable defibrillators. He is also the author of the book, The Supermen: The Story of Seymour Cray and the Technical Wizards Behind the Supercomputer, published by John Wiley & Sons in 1997. Murray’s electronics coverage has frequently appeared in the Chicago Tribune and in Popular Science. He holds a BS in engineering from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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