Fully driverless cars in Arizona, will they be a job killer?

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It’s a transportation milestone that may be the starting green flag in a race towards a major shift in employment. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) It’s a transportation milestone that may be the starting green flag in a race towards a major shift in employment. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Google’s Waymo announced Tuesday that its self-driving cars are now fully driverless on public roads in Arizona. That means no more human backup drivers hovering near the steering wheel. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Google’s Waymo announced Tuesday that its self-driving cars are now fully driverless on public roads in Arizona. That means no more human backup drivers hovering near the steering wheel. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
In a few months, the company says members of the public in its "early rider program" will be able to start hailing these fully driverless cars in the Phoenix metro area. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) In a few months, the company says members of the public in its "early rider program" will be able to start hailing these fully driverless cars in the Phoenix metro area. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

It’s a transportation milestone that may be the starting green flag in a race towards a major shift in employment.

Google’s Waymo announced Tuesday that its self-driving cars are now fully driverless on public roads in Arizona. That means no more human backup drivers hovering near the steering wheel.

In a few months, the company says members of the public in its "early rider program" will be able to start hailing these fully driverless cars in the Phoenix-metro area.

[RELATED: Waymo testing vans without human drivers in Chandler]

[YouTube: Waymo's fully self-driving cars are here]

But what does that mean for Arizona’s Uber, Lyft and taxi drivers? Or for Arizona’s transportation industry in the not-too-distant future?

“There will be massive job loss,” Grand Canyon University entrepreneurship and economics professor Tim Kelley said. “What's also going to happen is that we're going to redefine work itself.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4,920 people in Arizona work as “taxi drivers or chauffeurs,” a labor category that also includes rideshare drivers.

[RELATED: Self-driving cars: Not ready yet, but new rules open a path]

Kelley predicts those jobs will eventually be in danger from self-driving cars that cost less and operate more safely than a human. Waymo pointed out Tuesday that their cars “don’t get angry, distracted, drunk or tired.”

The more immediate economic impact, however, will be in the long-haul trucking industry, Kelley predicts.

“Those trucking companies have a really tough time to find people to carry those jobs – and they're really expensive," Kelley said. "They're paying upwards of $100,000 to $150,000” to some drivers."

[MORE: Concerns raised over Uber self-driving SUV's coming to the Valley]

Nearly 38,000 Arizonans are employed as a tractor-trailer or light truck drivers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Overall, the transportation sector is the state’s fourth-largest industry.

“There will be millions of people that drive trucks and drive taxis over the next five, 10, 15, 20 years that will be displaced nationwide," Kelley said. “But we wouldn't want to go back to an age before the electric light or with buggy whips. We wouldn't want to be riding horses and living in the dark.”

Kelley said the advent of driverless cars will change the kind of skills that are valued in our workforce and free people up to be more productive – rather than spending countless hours stuck in traffic.

[RELATED: Waymo self-driving minivan coming to Arizona this month]

In the meantime, there’s trouble on the horizon for people who make their living behind the wheel – and the first employment shifts could come to Arizona, a state that's becoming the proving ground for this technology.

"One of the reasons we chose Arizona for our technology is that it is a state that prides itself on welcoming innovation," said Waymo's Tekedra Mawakana. "Welcoming and ushering in innovation means needing to be able to manage change."

[READ MORE: Google's Waymo gives free self-driving car rides in Phoenix]

Mawakana said Waymo's self-driving technology has created some new occupations that didn't exist before, citing software engineers and test drivers.

"I think there's a lot of excitement about the jobs that will be created as a result of this technology," she said.

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Derek StaahlDerek Staahl is an Emmy Award-winning reporter and fill-in anchor who loves covering stories that matter most to Arizona families.

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Derek Staahl

This once-uncompromising "California guy" got his first taste of Arizona in 2015 while covering spring training baseball for his former station. The trip spanned just three days, but Derek quickly decided Phoenix should be his next address. He joined CBS 5 and 3TV four months later, in August 2015. Before packing his bags for the Valley of the Sun, Derek spent nearly four years at XETV in San Diego, where he was promoted to Weekend Anchor and Investigative Reporter. Derek chaired the Saturday and Sunday 10 p.m. newscasts, which regularly earned the station's highest ratings for a news program each week. Derek’s investigative reporting efforts into the Mayor Bob Filner scandal in 2013 sparked a "governance crisis" for the city of San Diego and was profiled by the region’s top newspaper. Derek broke into the news business at WKOW-TV in Madison, WI. He wrote, shot, edited, and presented stories during the week, and produced newscasts on the weekends. By the end of his stint, he was promoted to part-time anchor on WKOW’s sister station, WMSN. Derek was born in Los Angeles and was named the “Undergraduate Broadcast Journalism Student of the Year” in his graduating class at USC. He also played quads in the school’s famous drumline. When not reporting the news, Derek enjoys playing drumset, sand volleyball, and baseball.

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