Although fears that automation could lead to widespread job loss are now thought to be largely unfounded, with the technology thought to instead lead to changes in the nature of jobs rather than unemployment, jobs that are centred around driving are preparing for disruption from driverless vehicles.

With entirely driverless cars set to appear on UK roads as early as 2021, the question of whether a human will still be needed to deliver a pizza or collect rubbish will be one that the industry will need to address.

New research from price comparison website MoneySuperMarket has investigated this, and has found that over one million driving jobs could be affected by the introduction of driverless cars.

Earlier this month, Ford and supermarket giant Walmart announced they were partnering to develop a self-driving grocery delivery service. The car manufacturer also announced a collaboration with pizza delivery company Dominos in in Michigan to test self-driving pizza delivery.

MoneySuperMarket found that automation could remove £24bn worth of annual wages from the economy in the short term as firms that traditionally employ large numbers of drivers look to automation.

Although few UK motoring jobs have been automated to date, as many as 1.2 million face a 67% or higher probability of automation –representing up to £23.9bn in annual salaries, according to the research.

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Careers that could be at risk from driverless cars

The study found that some driving jobs may be at a greater risk, with food delivery drivers facing a 98% chance of automation. MoneySuperMarket noted that the industry was likely to see replacements “across the board”.

Waste disposal workers may also see their jobs taken over by machines, with a 93% chance of this happening. However, the automated bin lorries currently being trialled, such as one recently showcased by Volvo that identifies nearby bins using a drone, would still require human intervention.

Mobility firm Navya tested driverless buses in East London and Heathrow last year, meaning transport services may also be affected, with drivers looking at an 89% chance of being replaced in the next few years.

However, the research found that jobs in the emergency services are less at risk, with police facing only a 10% chance of full-scale replacement, ambulance drivers 25% and fire engine operators 42%.

Although these figures suggest an unavoidable rise in unemployment caused by automation, this may not be the case. Instead, driverless vehicles may see the reshaping of different industries, with the ability of AI to complete mundane or repetitive tasks prompting the reskilling of workers rather than job loss.

Tom Flack, Editor-in-Chief at MoneySuperMarket, commented:

“Automation will bring massive changes across the whole of society and those who drive for a living may be among the first to feel its effects. Tests of driverless vehicles are well-advanced and are soon to be on the roads – with future positions in commercial usage already identified.

“If businesses see an opportunity to save money by making drivers redundant, they are likely to grab it – that’s the nature of competition. We can only hope that automation brings with it fresh employment opportunities for those whose existing roles disappear.”