The Pandemic is Only Part of It

It seems like longer than a year and a half since the Coronavirus pandemic began, and its effects on the nationwide economy and supply chain continue to send aftershocks across multiple industries, including trucking. But even though the global pandemic has changed the lives and livelihoods of millions, it’s only part of the problem when it comes to the biggest issues that are affecting the trucking industry. Researched and prepared by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) in 2020, this comprehensive list covers what was “the most chaotic and unpredictable time period in many decades.”

 From a list of 29 critical trucking issues, survey respondents were asked to identify their top three choices as well as rank the proposed strategies that corresponded with each issue. This is the survey’s highest response rate since it began in 2005, with respondents ranging from carrier personnel to commercial drivers and other industry stakeholders.

 1. Driver Shortage

Ranked 1st: 13.9%

Ranked 2nd: 7.8%

Ranked 3rd: 5.8%

Total Vote Percentage: 26.4%

Industry Concern Index: 100

This is the fourth time in a row that the industry’s driver shortage has been voted the top overall concern. With freight demand now returning to pre-pandemic numbers, the industry continues to struggle with the numbers of drivers who left the industry due to retirement, the FMCSA Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, COVID-related concerns, and other reasons.

The proposed solution with the highest number of votes on this issue:

“Advocate for Congress and federal agencies to develop an apprenticeship program to attract, train and retain safe 18-20-year-old interstate drivers to the industry. Faced with an aging workforce where over a fourth of the driver population (27.4%) is 55 or older,4 fleets are looking to identify a younger cohort of drivers to fill seats. To increase the available pool of qualified candidates, 52.6 percent of respondents believe that opening interstate driving positions to 18-20-year-olds is the best strategy to address the shortage. The DRIVE-Safe Act – which is viewed by many in the industry as a clear pathway to safely integrate 18-20-year-old drivers into a trucking career – provides a framework for an apprenticeship program including hours of training, technology use, and performance benchmarks.”

 2. Driver Compensation

Ranked 1st: 8.6%

Ranked 2nd: 6.2%

Ranked 3rd: 5.2%

Total Vote Percentage: 19.1%

Industry Concern Index: 68.4

This is the second year in a row that driver compensation has made it to the Top 10, raising a spot to number two from 2019. Although the ATRI reports a roughly $6,000 increase in trucker salary from 2017-2019, many drivers reported that they believe the shortage and compensation are linked.

The proposed solution with the highest number of votes on this issue:

“Analyze truck driver compensation in relation to other competing employment sectors (e.g. construction). Trucking fleets often compete with other industries that may offer similar or better pay and also provide workers with preferred lifestyle options, such as the opportunity to be home every night. This is particularly true this year as the pandemic has led to a surge in e-commerce growth and a resulting need for local and regional drivers.Understanding how driver pay stands up against competing industries is the preferred strategy of 35.1 percent of respondents.”

 3. Truck Parking

Ranked 1st: 7.6%

Ranked 2nd: 6.4%

Ranked 3rd: 7.6%

Total Vote Percentage: 20.5%

Industry Concern Index: 67.9

Truck parking, or lack thereof, first appeared on the ATRI survey results in 2012 and has frequently made the list since then. 2020’s results saw this issue get its highest rank yet, which had in large part to do with the temporary closing of rest stops during the pandemic.

The proposed solution with the highest number of votes on this issue:

“Identify strategic locations on the National Freight Network for new or expanded truck parking due to increased traffic congestion, changing staging needs and industry / regulatory changes. A plurality of survey respondents (39.5%) believe that identifying strategic locations to expand truck parking capacity is the best approach for addressing the pervasive shortage of truck parking. Initiatives such as the Atlanta Regional Truck Parking Assessment Study, which identified current truck parking inventories and projected future truck parking deficits, allow states and regions to target investment in strategic locations.”

 4. Compliance, Safety, Accountability

Ranked 1st: 8%

Ranked 2nd: 6.1%

Ranked 3rd: 4.8%

Total Vote Percentage: 18%

Industry Concern Index: 64.7

Also known as CSA, this is also not a new issue to this list, but this is the first time that CSA has been back in the Top 5 since 2015. The FMCSA has continually made improvements to CSA system in its 10-year history, but carriers continue to report issues with data quality, peer group assignments, and Crash Preventability Program challenges.

The proposed solution with the highest number of votes on this issue:

“Work with FMCSA to update its carrier prioritization methodology, improve its accuracy, and enhance transparency, as it moves to implement the Item Response Theory methodology into the current SMS. The September 2019 U.S. DOT Inspector General (IG) audit of FMCSA’s CSA Corrective Action Plan found that the plan lacked “implementation details for improving transparency and its assessment of carrier safety rankings.” Collaboration with FMCSA to round out those details and successfully implement the National Academies of Sciences recommendations for improving CSA was the preferred strategy by 37.3 percent of respondents.”

5. Insurance Availability/Cost

Ranked 1st: 5.6%

Ranked 2nd: 7.6%

Ranked 3rd: 5.4%

Total Vote Percentage: 17.5%

Industry Concern Index: 58

This issue made its debut in this survey’s inaugural year and has now made its way back to the Top Ten 16 years later as the number five biggest issue. The ATRI found that insurance costs per mile increased 18.3% over the last five years, affecting many smaller fleets and causing even more to go out of business.

The proposed solution with the highest number of votes on this issue:

“Quantify the impact of rising insurance costs on industry operations, safety investments, and driver training. ATRI’s recent study on the impact of nuclear verdicts on the trucking industry documented some of the impacts of rising insurance costs, including reduced resources for driver training. Additionally, ATRI’s Research Advisory Committee identified this topic – Impacts of Rising Insurance Costs on Industry Operational Costs – as a top research priority for 2020; a strategy that 50.9 percent of survey respondents selected as their top choice.”

 6.Driver Retention

Ranked 1st: 5.9%

Ranked 2nd: 6.9%

Ranked 3rd: 5.3%

Total Vote Percentage: 17.1%

Industry Concern Index: 57.4

In addition to attracting new drivers to the profession, the industry has also been facing challenges with retaining the drivers they already have. Although driver turnover did fall 12 percentage points – the lowest level since 2018 – it’s predicted that number will rise, and along with it the need to retain drivers, as freight demand continues to ramp up to pre-COVID levels.

The proposed solution with the highest number of votes on this issue:

“Research and prioritize retention strategies, based on driver feedback and driver tenure data. A plurality of respondents (48.7%) believe that research to quantify and disseminate the most successful retention strategies based on driver feedback and tenure as a professional driver is the best way to reduce turnover and churn. Among the retention strategies fleets are deploying, beyond increasing pay, are more home time, newer equipment, and health and wellness programs focused on improving drivers’ quality of life while on the road.”

7. Tort Reform

Ranked 1st: 5.4%

Ranked 2nd: 4.5%

Ranked 3rd: 4.2%

Total Vote Percentage: 13.5%

Industry Concern Index: 46.6

Tort reform refers to proposed changes to the civil justice system, aiming to reduce the ability of victims to bring tort litigation or to reduce the amount of damages they can receive. A tort, in this case, is a civil wrong that causes a claimant to suffer loss or harm and results in legal liability.

With growing attention over truck crash litigation and concern over criminal activity involving staged truck crashes, tort reform is back on the Top 10 list after dropped off in 2012.

The proposed solution with the highest number of votes on this issue:

“Advocate for reasonable limits on non-economic damages. Many states have placed caps on non-economic damages with respect to medical malpractice cases. This “pain and suffering” element of damage awards often drives the extreme or “nuclear” components of large jury awards. 49.8 percent of respondents believe this is the best strategy for Tort Reform.”

 8. Economy

Ranked 1st: 5.1%

Ranked 2nd: 4.5%

Ranked 3rd: 5%

Total Vote Percentage: 13.9%

Industry Concern Index: 46.1

The type of economic backslide caused by the pandemic hadn’t been seen since the Great Depression with millions of Americans either temporarily or permanently unemployed and businesses shuttering across the country. Although things are starting to rebound, concerns over the lost economic gains of the past five years and when/how the economy will rebound have put it on the Top 10.

The proposed solution with the highest number of votes on this issue:

“Continue to advocate for trade and economic policies that will further stimulate the economy. Given the strong relationship between consumer spending and freight demand, 36.7 percent of respondents would like to see policies that boost consumer spending. Many are hopeful that additional COVID-19 stimulus monies will help restore consumer confidence but the approaching election and partisan challenges are making the passage of an additional stimulus package highly unlikely in the near-term.”

 9. Detention/Delay at Customer Facilities

Ranked 1st: 4.3%

Ranked 2nd: 5%

Ranked 3rd: 5.7%

Total Vote Percentage: 14.2%

Industry Concern Index: 44.7

This issue made the Top 10 for a second year in a row but dropped several spots to number 9 due to the increased attention and urgency of other issues that hit the industry during 2020. The impacts of increased detentions and delays at customer facilities are multiple and directly impact hours of service, compensation, and parking.

The proposed solution with the highest number of votes on this issue:

“Identify best practices, technologies, and strategies that reduce or eliminate driver detention at shipper/receiver facilities. ATRI’s 2019 Driver Detention study found that drivers and carriers attributed excessive detention to a number of factors including dock employee issues, product readiness, lack of dock space, overbooking, and lack of technology solutions, among others. A plurality of respondents (40.4%) believe that the best solution for reducing detention is to synthesize and promote the best practices and mitigating strategies that address top detention causes.”

10. Hours Of Service

Ranked 1st: 3.1%

Ranked 2nd: 5.9%

Ranked 3rd: 5.3%

Total Vote Percentage: 13.5%

Industry Concern Index: 41.2

Hours of Service is still in the Top 10 as it has been in years past, but this issue experienced the biggest drop from second overall in 2019 to the last on the list in 2020. The final HOS rules that were put into place in September 2020 addressed many of the issues that were considered problematic in years past. Many HOS exceptions were also made since then due to the pandemic, so research will show where it ranks in 2021.

The proposed solution with the highest number of votes on this issue:

“Research the safety impacts from additional sleeper berth flexibility in the June 2020 final HOS rules. The top HOS strategy from last year’s survey advocated for additional flexibility in the sleeper berth provision. The new rule provides for additional flexibility – allowing for a 7-3 split of hours in the sleeper berth – and as a result, 35.2 percent of respondents would like to see research done with drivers utilizing the new split to quantify the safety impacts of the additional flexibility."