The American Trucking Research Institute (ATRI) recently published its annual Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry for 2019. From ATRI’s top 10 list of critical issues, FreightCenter has identified four issues on the list that should be of particular interest to our customers. Of those four, we’ve dedicated one article to an in-depth discussion of Transportation Infrastructure, Congestion and Funding. Now, we’re counting down the remaining 3 important freight shipping issues you need to know as we move into the next decade.
3. Truck Parking
Truck Parking ranked as the fifth most critical issue among trucking industry stakeholders, but it is a problem that directly affects shippers and everyone else.
Large commercial trucks must be parked in designated locations. In recent years, the freight industry has seen an increase in shipping and the number of trucks on the road. At the same time, there has been a decrease in the number of parking spaces for commercial trucks. The lack of parking spaces is a safety issue for drivers, which makes it a safety issue for anyone on the road.
There are times when drivers must work beyond their permitted hours in order to reach a safe, designated space. When that happens, they arrive at their parking space both tired and breaking the Hours of Service rules.
The alternative is to grab an available parking space before reaching their hours limit. However, working fewer hours can cause costly delays. For example, if a trade show booth must be moved from one side of the country to the other and the lack of parking spaces causes the driver to drive fewer hours and the shipment to arrive a day late, that’s a big problem for the shipper and the person expecting the shipment.
What Can Be Done About Truck Parking?
Based on survey data, the ATRI recommends to “[i]dentify strategic locations on the National Freight Network for new or expanded parking ….” This strategy includes re-opening closed parking facilities and building new parking facilities. In addition, corridors where drivers say the shortages are most critical have been identified in numerous state studies.
2. Hours of Service (HOS)
As noted above, how long drivers stay on the road affects both timely delivery and safety, and it is an important freight shipping issue. Those hours are regulated by Hours of Service (HOS) rules. In addition to being restrictive in the name of safety, the rules can also be somewhat complicated. Here is a direct quote from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) summary of HOS regulations, regarding the 14-hour limit: The driver “may not drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty. Off-duty time does not extend the 14-hour period.”
HOS rules are customized for short-haul and long-haul drivers, as well as for property-carrying drivers and passenger-carrying drivers. The complexity of the rules is not the issue. It’s the lack of flexibility that concerns drivers and carriers. Unless the rules for how breaks are taken are made more flexible, drivers, carriers and shippers will continue to suffer from shipments that take more time than is reasonably necessary to keep drivers alert and the roads safe.
What Can Be Done About HOS Rules?
In response to sustained and rising criticism of the rules, FMCSA released proposed rule changes for public comment of August 14, 2019. The proposal called for giving drivers more flexibility regarding when they take their 30-minute rest breaks and how they can divide their time in the sleeper berth. It also called for extending driving time when inclement weather is encountered and lengthening the maximum on-duty period for short-haul drivers.
During the public comment period, which ended on October 21, 2019, the proposed changes received 2,600 written comments. The variety of the comments made clear that stakeholders had given a lot of thought to how the rules should be made more flexible. FMCSA must now take these comments into consideration while drafting a final rule. This process is expected to take months.
For shippers, the good news is that however the new rules turn out, they will help carriers and drivers meet their anticipated delivery dates, which will add more stability to freight shipping.
1. Driver Shortage
The driver shortage was the top freight shipping industry concern for the third year in a row. According to a report issued by the American Trucking Associations (ATA) in July 2019, more than 60,000 drivers are needed today. Additionally, this freight shipping driver shortage could increase to 100,000 over the next five years. The truckload sector has experienced the largest driver shortage because drivers can spend weeks on the road at a time.
The driver shortage is an important issue for shippers because it contributes to a lack of capacity in the industry. Fewer drivers means less competition, which means higher prices.
What Can Be Done About the Driver Shortage?
After completing a survey, the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) recommends to press the federal government to develop an interstate driving apprenticeship program for 18 to 20-year-old drivers. To that end, the DRIVE-Safe Act has been introduced in Congress. The thinking behind this strategy is two-fold:
- 3 percent of the current driver workforce is over the age of 55 and nearing retirement. Steps must be taken now to train a new generation of drivers.
- While 18 to 20-year-olds cannot legally operate commercial vehicles on interstate routes across state lines, they can drive commercial vehicles within the 48 states themselves. This means that an 18 to 20-year-old driver can drive 745 miles within Texas from Houston to El Paso, but they cannot drive the 45 miles from El Paso, Texas to Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Continuing to train new drivers helps keep the freight industry diverse and healthy.
Before We Hit the Road
It can be hard to keep up with all the freight industry news. Most of the issues discussed here are of concern because there is just so much freight being shipped today and every day. And that’s a good thing. Want to know more about freight shipping issues that could affect you? The full ATRI report is available for download.