Are We Ready For Unmanned Trucks In Europe?

Autonomous driving will fundamentally change the European market for long-distance transport


Dutch Minister Schultz van Haegen wants to put the Netherlands on the world map with unmanned trucks. That is good news for the European transport sector. Unfortunately, Europe isn't exactly ready for unmanned trucks.

The current spatial planning is a problem. Platoons of three or four unmanned trucks will soon be transporting large volumes according to a timetable across vast European transport corridors in the TEN-T network. This will demand more horizontal collaboration between companies, with control towers directing the transport flows.

Each of the nodes in the TEN-T network will need to have a large-scale distribution park where shippers and carriers can bundle and unbundle their transport flows. The problem is: there is hardly any room for such large-scale distribution parks.

The unmanned trucks will be driving across borders. Not only the hard technology on board, also the soft information technology for directing transport flows needs to be standardized at the European level. But also: who owns all that big data that the trucks and the local road authorities collect regarding the transport flows? Open data need to be truly open to everyone. The traffic laws and rules of play and the qualifications required of professional drivers in the various European countries need to be synchronized. The borders between countries cannot be borders for transport.

Autonomous driving will fundamentally change the European market for long-distance transport. Logistics service providers will need to adapt their strategy towards operational excellence at the Champions League level in terms of the planning, execution and financing of their European transport networks. They may encounter competition from unexpected sources. What is keeping Scania from organising its own European transport network if drivers are no longer necessary?

Trucks are becoming high-tech command centers. They communicate with traffic managers via intelligent transport systems (ITS) in order to make optimal use of the infrastructure. This means much more responsibility for the highly trained driver – comparable to that of a pilot of a Boeing jet. The sector needs to get started with training the drivers of the future using first-rate driving simulators.

The deployment of unmanned trucks will demand collaboration between carriers and shippers, room for distribution parks in the TEN-T network, open and transparent data, the best drivers and a European policy for road safety. Only then will the logistics sector stand to benefit from this innovation.


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