Autonomous vehicles may change work for millions of people

It’s rare that anything affects the livelihoods of 9.5 million workers, or the lives of nearly all Americans. But because most of the country relies on some form of transportation, autonomous vehicles and the digital technologies they represent could mean major changes for a large percentage of people living and working in the United States.

A recent article by fellows at the Brookings Institution hypothesizes that the impacts of so-called digital mobility will not only touch workers in their immediate path, such as drivers, but also change the job functions of people who design, build and maintain vehicles. But that’s not all: The people who create and preserve environments such as roads and highways will also have to adapt when a driver isn’t behind the wheel.

Altogether, the Brookings Institution estimates that 3.9 million drivers, 3.8 million auto support workers and 1.8 million transport support workers will be impacted. That does not mean they’ll be fired, or that their jobs will be retired. But they will have to adapt to a new landscape of transportation, where today’s model has become obsolete.


The Brookings Institution estimates that every state will feel the effects of digital mobility, but states in the Midwest with large manufacturing centers will likely be impacted the most.

To anticipate a coming age where autonomous vehicles increasingly become the norm, fellows at the Brookings Institution say a few questions need to be answered. First, experts need to get an idea of what new jobs will be created by autonomous vehicles and general digitalization, and which positions will disappear in coming years because of them. Then, they need to decide what skills workers need in this new economy, so the transition does not lead to instability. And finally, state and local governments need advice on where to focus their development efforts so they can promote opportunity instead of losing jobs.

Change does not have to be bad, and inroads in digitalization do not have to mean that millions of people become unemployed because they’re no longer qualified or necessary. But now is the time to start looking into how companies and the government can address this digital boom, before it’s upon us.