On Thursday of last week, Tesla unveiled its long-awaited big rig truck and made the long-established hauling industry the latest business to occupy the auto maker's crosshairs. Tesla's move into the tractor trailer industry is a big leap for the sleek car manufacturer, but a reasonable one. The company is fueled—pardon the pun—by a desire to switch the world's drivers away from the internal combustion engine and towards an electric vehicle while simultaneously creating a massive solar panel and battery infrastructure of the future. The move into big rigs is a logical step toward an electric-driven, reduced-emission future considering the fact that heavy duty trucks account for a substantial share of the world's greenhouse gasses.
Curbing such a significant source of pollution is a noble task. But with each new electric truck that Tesla rolls out, another vehicle equipped with an “autopilot” system hits the streets. According to Tesla CEO Elon Musk, the adoption of autonomous driving vehicles—which can automatically engage braking systems and alert drivers to lane departures—will increase safety and hopefully reduce the roughly 4,000 annual deaths in truck-related accidents. While today's systems are only “semi-autonomous,” we are not far from a future of fully self-driving automobiles. What repercussions loom around the bend once long-haul truckers—who account for more than 5% of the American work force—are suddenly out of commission? We've seen what the collapse of the coal industry has done throughout Appalachia. But the collapse of an industry of roughly 80,000 workers is nothing compared to the challenges that await around the bend as more than 3.1 million drivers find themselves at risk of automation.