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Could Automation Solve UK’s Impending Trucker Shortage?

Autonomous vehicle technology will be more common in 2019. While some are experimenting with self-driving trucks, it may still take a while before the innovation becomes publicly available.

Regulatory hurdles await any formal launch of self-driving trucks in the UK, not to mention a likely opposition among the public. Road safety serves as a reason for them to question the viability of letting computers or robots operate a truck. For now, the freight industry should focus on how to improve on-time deliveries amid a looming shortage of EU drivers.

Worsening Shortage of Drivers

Automated truck loading systems will be more relevant for freight shippers once Brexit finally takes effect. According to the International Road Transport Union’s (IRU) study, the referendum vote will further worsen a lack of qualified drivers in the country. Most trucking professionals come from Eastern European countries such as Poland and Romania, and the IRU believes that the political exit will make it harder for immigrants to find work in the industry.

Fewer drivers will affect the supply chain through delayed shipments. Trucking companies will need to improve container loading and unloading for their fleets to compensate for a smaller workforce. Aside from these implications, the supply chain will be more congested through increased customs inspections on national borders.

Not Just Brexit

The trucking sector’s recruitment problem has already existed before Brexit, although it became more pronounced due to the urgency of finding new drivers. Most people who work in the trucking business have left because of different reasons. The common ones involve compensation, long working hours and a dangerous working environment.

In fact, it is uncommon to encounter a truck driver in their 20s. Those who currently work are around 44 years old on average, and their numbers are continually declining as many of them decide to work as drivers of passenger vehicles. Companies still have some time to create a contingency plan, following a deadline extension for Brexit.

Confused Suppliers

Truck going uphill

EU leaders recently deferred a March 29 deadline for the withdrawal, which will now happen on May 22. The back-and-forth negotiations have confused the freight industry on how to address the impact. As early as now, you should expect a complicated policy for importing products from the EU. Suppliers would need to apply for a UK Economic Operator Registration Identification number to continue with import and export trading activity.

Those who need to export products from the UK would have to designate an EU-based supplier, which will act the importer of goods to clear customs inspection. Trucking companies should apply for permits if they engage in cross-border trading with EU countries. Around 11,000 applications are now in place and this would increase over the coming months as the new deadline inches closer.

Self-driving trucks won’t be available soon for the trucking industry, until the technology becomes safe enough for use on major highways. Trucking companies will have to focus their attention on how to recruit new drivers and improve loading systems to remain competitive, especially after Brexit.


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