-  Photo: Jim Park

Photo: Jim Park

With the start of a new year and new administration in D.C., we are likely to see major shifts in the commercial trucking industry, particularly in the form of regulations that focus on speed limits and electric vehicles.

Regulations or not, the industry continues to innovate at exceptional speed. Thrown the curveball of a global pandemic, the commercial trucking industry proved to be flexible and quickly adapted to all the obstacles 2020 presented. COVID-19 requirements forced fleet managers to put greater emphasis on personal health and safety, all while keeping focused on the essential nature of the work – delivering resources to businesses, grocery stores and other organizations across the country.

Though the trucking industry has already greatly changed over the last year, both before and during COVID-19, fleet providers are always looking for ways to be more efficient, safe and reliable. Here are some of our predictions for where the industry is headed in 2021:

1. Speed limit mandates could be coming

Under the Obama administration, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration suggested a rule to limit top speeds of large trucks and buses weighing more than 26,000 pounds, which would’ve impacted many of the nation’s bus and commercial truck fleets. It would not be a surprise if under the new administration, the measure comes back into focus. Most notably, legislators could agree on a heavy-duty trucking national speed limit that does not vary by state.  

2. Focus on safety with driver assistance technologies and compliance

Federal agencies, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, will further their commitment to bring advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) to the market. The American Trucking Associations and other leading authorities will also shape their safety standards around these technologies. Additionally, we can expect to see federal groups pick up Obama-era compliance and safety programs, including the FMCSA’s “Beyond Compliance” provisions. 

3. Push for electric vehicles will put pressure on infrastructure to keep up

President Joe Biden recently vowed to replace the U.S. government’s fleet of roughly 650,000 vehicles with electric models. The new administration also has discussed plans to ban oil and gas permits on public land, which could result in fluctuating fuel prices, further driving the demand for the electric vehicle revolution. Nationwide infrastructure is needed to support this growth, especially to serve short-haul electric trucks – currently the best use case for EV. However, the U.S. power grid in its current state is strained and is not equipped to adequately handle a large influx of electric vehicles. 

4. Fleets will adapt models to address rising insurance minimums. 

The new administration is expected to increase insurance minimums, which will put a strain on smaller operators. We expect industry players to push back, and insurance providers will respond with new incentives to encourage fleets to leverage safety technology and avoid incurring excess expenses.  

5. The driver shortage becomes a top priority for executives. 

It’s arguably the biggest challenge the trucking industry will face in 2021. The average age of truck drivers in the U.S. is 55 years old. The current generation of truck drivers are looking to retire soon. Fleet providers are hoping that new, cutting-edge technologies like analytics, digital mirrors and self-driving capabilities – coupled with new alternative fuel types like hydrogen and electric down the line – will entice a younger generation to get excited about joining the trucking industry.

6. Safety initiatives get top billing

There are a handful of safety product features that will be must-have’s in 2021. Collision prevention, blind-spot and driver cameras, over the air speed trimming, and assisted braking will be key safety components that will be in high demand by the industry. In the past few years, fleet managers have seen the power of safety technology and the cost savings in reduced fines, insurance and legal fees that these technologies can provide on a mass scale. Now there’s a sense of urgency for OEMs to implement even more safety technologies – on the factory floor or through third-party vendor integrations. 

7. ‘Box agnostic’ will remain, but platforms need data interoperability.

There’s currently a staggered "box agnostic" rollout strategy in play with telematics control units (TCUs). All the OEMs have started their rollouts with configurations for large sleeper cabs and are beginning to see adoption. But currently, the biggest barrier to widespread adoption is data flow. There needs to be a more seamless and frictionless flow of data, specifically track and trace, from TCUs to telematics service providers.

8. OEMs continue their forward momentum in alternative fuels and drivelines

The industry speculates that the new administration will change OEM engine development plans. Across the board, alternative fuels have already received a big push, and a regulation change could further force the issue. As OEMs work diligently on more environmental and efficient fuel solutions, environmental regulations will apply pressure. OEMs will be forced to cut the testing and refining process – potentially pushing the industry into an era that infrastructure is not entirely ready to support.

The good news is, for 2021, the industry is adapting and slowly moving past COVID-19, with heightened focus on safety, technology and more, paving the way for future advancements in trucking. While 2020 was focused on ensuring trucks could keep moving to deliver vital resources for essential businesses, fleet companies tried to maintain the balance between hiring enough people who could safely operate vehicles and keeping their existing workforce healthy. It’s a new year and we’re confident the commercial fleet industry will remain flexible and able to successfully adapt, given the recent innovations in technology and some correlating regulations.

Fred Fakkema is Zonar vice president, safety and compliance, and currently leads Zonar's product development. He joined Zonar after being with the Washington State Patrol for 25 years, in which he commanded the WSP Academy, Government and Relations Division and the Commercial Vehicle Division. Gary Schmidt is Zonar vice president of OEM connected solutions and is responsible for the overall OEM, channel and reseller partner business development at Zonar. He has 20 years of experience in technology and mobile in operations, sales, marketing, developing and selling complex global solutions. This article was authored and edited according to HDT editorial standards and style to provide useful information to our readers.