The Truck Without a Driver – Part 4

by Edo van Belkom


Mark is driving across the Prairies and comes across a truck like no other he’s ever seen before. He pulls up alongside of it and realizes the man behind the wheel isn’t driving, but rather he’s reading a magazine. It’s one of those autonomous trucks that operated without a driver and Mark was awestruck.

He spends a while thinking about what driverless trucks mean to the trucking industry and is able to see both sides of the argument. Trucking goods would eventually be more economical and there would be less need for drivers. However, drivers would still be needed in some capacity and other opportunities might open up for them in the industry.

Mark sees one of the autonomous trucks pulled over onto the side of the highway and he pulls over to see if he can find out more about it. He talks to the monitor who had been riding in the truck and finds out where the truck was headed. He decides to go there himself and get a better look at how the whole operation works…

Mark DaltonA few hours later, Mark was approaching Calgary and Hwy. 2 that ran up into the heart of Alberta. About five miles before he reached the city, he came across a stretch of industrial areas that had among them, trucking terminals and warehouses.

From the Trans-Canada Highway, he could see a bunch of the same autonomous trucks parked in a large expansive truck lot. They were occupying one corner of the lot and there were plenty of people walking around the trucks as if inspecting them for their roadworthiness.

Mark took the next exit and then began doubling back until he reached the truck yard where he’d seen the driverless trucks. He entered the yard at a crawl, wondering if a truck with a driver – an actual driver – would set off some alarm bells that would see him pulled over and asked…“What the hell are you doing here?”

“Just gonna park my rig.”
“Didn’t you see the sign?”
“What sign?”
“The one that says, No Drivers Allowed!”

Fortunately, the yard was still servicing old-fashioned trucks and drivers and Mark was able to drive right through the yard without anyone paying any attention to him at all. The older trucks were operating like they usually did, backing up to loading docks and having people loading or unloading their cargo. Thankfully, people were still needed to do that work. Hopefully those jobs would be safe for the next little while at least.

As he moved deeper into the yard toward where the autonomous trucks were parked, he could see that in addition to the engineers walking around the trucks, there were other people who were servicing the trucks in the usual way…fueling, maintenance and cleaning. So, why were they picking on drivers as the ones that could be so easily replaced? The thought made Mark angry about the whole situation.

Trucks were getting more technical all the time, relying on computers and science to make them run better and more efficiently. Pretty soon, anyone could buy one of the newest trucks and as long as they had a background in computers, they would be able to manage all the software and systems.

Pretty soon, the days when a driver busted his butt to own his own truck, buy another one and slowly work his way up to owning an entire fleet would be gone. In this new system, new fleets would appear almost overnight. Multi-national companies would start up new trucking ventures and immediately have an advantage over other driver fleets just because their equipment was the newest and had the all the money-saving bells and whistles.

Owner-operators like Mark would become a dying breed…if they weren’t dying already. Mark knew the right thing to do was to work with new technologies, see how they could benefit you and see where they could take you. Mark nodded. Yes, that’s what he should do. But he couldn’t.

He couldn’t go along with it because the whole venture’s end goal was to eventually take away his job and the jobs of hundreds of thousands of other truckers by making them obsolete. He had to do something to stop, or at least slow down, the march of technology.
Mark parked his truck in a quiet part of the lot, then searched around in his tool box to see if he had what he needed. When he found it, Mark climbed up into his bunk to relax until the sun went down and the yard was a lot less busy.

Later that night, about two hours after sundown, Mark got up and took a look out Mother Load’s windows. There was still activity at the other end of the lot where loading and unloading was still going on and would no doubt continue throughout the night.

Closer to Mark, however, the yard was dark and silent. The autonomous trucks were all lined up in a neat row – six in all – with no one around guarding them. That thought brought a smile to Mark’s face. Maybe these trucks have such sophisticated security and alarm systems that they’re putting truck yard security guards out of work too. After making sure no one was near, Mark grabbed what he needed, then slowly climbed out of Mother Load and headed toward the autonomous trucks traveling along the very edges of the truck yard.

When he reached the first truck, he took one more look around to make sure the coast was clear, then he set to work. Mark carried a roll of electrical tape in his tool box in case he ever had to make wiring repairs on the road. He also had a roll of black hockey tape in there, a leftover from a hockey player to whom he once gave a ride across the country.

With both types of tape in his hands, Mark systematically went around each of the autonomous trucks and any time he saw a lens for a camera or sensor, he tore off a length of tape and placed the tape over it. With two types of black tape, Mark was able to cover all the sensors in a way that was hard to spot against the surrounding black of the truck.
In the morning none of the trucks would be operable and it would take them a while to figure out what happened.

Then it would take them some time to remove all the tape and clean up the lenses.

It wasn’t much of a resistance effort, but at least it was something. Happy with the work he’d done, Mark climbed up into Mother Load, started her up and drove slowly out of the yard as if he’d awoken from a rest stop and just getting back to work.

Mark knew he had only caused some minor inconvenience, at best, for the people working on the autonomous truck project, but he was satisfied that he’d done something to slow – even just a little bit – the advancement of driverless technology and the inevitable addition of truckers to the unemployment lines.

Mark Dalton returns next month in another story.

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