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Driverless cars will kill the most jobs in select US states

Yellow taxi cabs line up outside the Delta Terminal at LaGuardia Airport in Queens, New York.
Todd Maisel | NY Daily News | Getty Images
Yellow taxi cabs line up outside the Delta Terminal at LaGuardia Airport in Queens, New York.

If Silicon Valley gets its way, it won't be long until every vehicle in the country has nobody behind the wheel.

Driverless car technology is expected to reduce labor costs, fuel costs and accidents, but it will also be a complete disaster for the millions of Americans who work as long-haul truckers, bus drivers or cab drivers. Truck driving alone is the most common job across vast swathes of the United States, and they could all be unemployed within years.

Almost 3 percent of all working American are drivers of some sort — more than 2 percent are truck drivers, 0.4 percent are bus drivers and 0.3 percent are cabbies and other types of drivers, according to Census Bureau occupational data. But those jobs aren't evenly distributed across the country, and some places are going to get slammed by the automation of jobs more than others.


According to the 2014 Census data, there are more than 4.4 million Americans aged 16 and over working as drivers, and the vast majority of those are men who are categorized as "driver/sales workers and truck drivers." In states like Wyoming and Idaho, the percent of the employed civilians working in driving jobs exceeds four percent. (The District of Columbia is the lowest by far, at only 1.6 percent).

It could be many years before vehicle automation takes those jobs. Even when driverless cars and trucks hit the road, regulators will expect them to continue to contain a human operator for the foreseeable future. But eventually, the economic endgame is to leave the drivers behind. Companies like Uber aren't investing in driverless technology so they can continue to pay drivers:

"The reason Uber could be expensive is because you're not just paying for the car — you're paying for the other dude in the car," Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said years ago. "When there's no other dude in the car, the cost of taking an Uber anywhere becomes cheaper than owning a vehicle."

And self-driving trucks have already been tested — the company Uber purchased to help develop its self-driving cars also plans to have thousands of trucks equipped with test technology by 2017. Those trucks will still have drivers behind the wheel, but like Uber's cars, it's hard to imagine they'll be there for long.

Some states look like they'll be particularly hard-hit, but the problem looks even worse if you zoom in and look at the same data by congressional district. Some areas — like the Bronx and Queens in New York City, and Hoboken, New Jersey — rely on driving jobs for nearly 9 percent of their work forces.

For men, who make up the majority of drivers, the situation is even more dire — in some places, 10 to 15 percent of the male workforce could find themselves newly unemployed.