For most of its history, the postal service has stayed near the cutting edge of transportation technology. Five years after the B&O became America’s first railroad, the post office awarded the first contract for hauling mail by train. Congress authorized the first air mail eight years after the Wright brothers flew at Kitty Hawk. And when we built the interstate system, USPS took advantage, using trucks for long-haul routes and building on a century of experience saving money with stagecoach contracts. So it should surprise no one that USPS is experimenting with highly automated vehicles (HAVs) today. While HAV technology isn’t ready for the current postal vehicle order, USPS is already looking ahead for ways automation can make it a better mail carrier. Below, I highlight some particularly promising benefits HAVs could bring to USPS, drawing from a report by the USPS Office of the Inspector General (OIG).
HAVs potentially could make carrier routes safer, faster and more reliable. As it stands, USPS has worsening problems on all three margins. As the USPS OIG notes in their study, postal vehicle crashes have increased about 50 percent in the last decade. Every year, about 12 postal workers die in motor vehicle incidents. While HAVs won’t prevent all of these losses, they could avoid some, making the job of delivering mail less risky than it is today.