The economy was the top trucking industry concern in the 19th annual Top Industry Issues Survey by the American Transportation Research Institute. And for the first time, zero-emission vehicles made the Top 10 list. The report identified truck parking as the second-ranked issue for the trucking industry.
ATRI is the not-for-profit research organization connected with the American Trucking Associations. More than 4,000 trucking industry stakeholders participated in this year’s survey, including motor carriers, truck drivers, industry suppliers, driver trainers, and law enforcement members.
More than 47% of the survey respondents were motor carrier executives and personnel, while truck drivers represented 29%. The other responders were industry suppliers, trainers, government, industry association staff, and for the first time, nearly 5% of the respondents were from law enforcement. With the increased commercial vehicle enforcement input, the full report includes a ranking of the top three law enforcement concerns, which were driver distraction, hours of service, and driver training standards.
Among driver respondents, driver compensation, truck parking, and fuel prices were the top three concerns. Motor carriers ranked the economy, the driver shortage, and lawsuit abuse reform as their top three concerns.
“ATRI’s list thoroughly and accurately reflects the challenges we’ve faced this year,” said ATA Chairman Dan Van Alstine, Ruan Transportation Management Systems president and COO. “Costs were up, and demand was down, all while we worked to navigate a number of workforce and regulatory issues.
"Thankfully, ATRI’s analysis doesn’t just tell us what the issues are; it spells out a number of data-driven srategies that the industry can pursue to address them.”
ATRI President and CEO Rebecca Brewster was joined by Cari Baylor, president of Baylor Trucking, and Dean Key, a Ruan driver who is a captain for the ATA 2022-2023 America’s Road Team, as she unveiled this year’s results during ATA's Management Conference & Exposition over the weekend in Austin, Texas.
The top concerns, based on ATRI’s survey of the industry, for 2023 are:
- Truck Parking
- Fuel Prices
- Driver Shortage
- Driver Compensation
- Lawsuit Abuse Reform
- Driver Distraction
- Driver Retention
- Detention/Delay at Customer Facilities
- Zero-Emission Vehicles
Brewster said the economy first ranked in the Top 10 in 2008, debuting as the number two issue, then moved into the number one slot for three years. In 2022, the economy ranked fifth.
“In our operational costs of trucking [study], we topped $2 per mile for the first time this year,” she said. “And I don't think it's going to drop down below that for the foreseeable future.”
Baylor said she was not surprised at all to learn the economy was the top overall concern, saying it has been an issue now for several years.
She said when faced with tough economic times, she tries to be as transparent as possible with her drivers.
As an example, she talked about when a driver needs roadside service for a tire problem that possibly could have been prevented through a proper pre-trip inspection. Discussing situations like that with drivers can help them understand their contribution to keeping costs down if there is transparency.
“We want them to help clarify the solution,” Baylor added.
2. Truck Parking
Truck parking moved up one spot, from third in 2022 to the second-ranked concern in 2023.
“This is the highest we have seen the lack of available truck parking on the surveys since we started,” Brewster said, adding that it first broached the top 10 concerns in 2012 and has been a top-five issue since 2015.
This issue has been around a while, and Brewster shared that she remembers a Congressionally directed study to look at the inadequacy of available truck parking in the mid-1990s.
Baylor pointed to how fleets and managers now should help their drivers.
“It will be really important for driver managers to use all types of technology tools to assist our professional drivers in finding parking,” she said.
She told of a state trucking association recently talking with students, young women, who were shocked to learn that the trucks have sleeper cabs. They thought the drivers simply slept in their seat. But a sleeper cab in reality is of little use when a driver cannot find a place to park safely to rest or sleep.
“There's a lot of attention by the USDOT. They have been now releasing more competitive grants that are going to add an additional capacity for truck parking,” Brewster said. “So maybe we won't have to have a conversation 30 years from now that this is still a top industry issue.”
3. Fuel Prices
ATRI documented a more than 50% fuel cost per mile increase year over year, so it's not surprising that fuel prices ranked as the third largest concern in the industry.
“Fuel prices had been dropping somewhat. But then they started climbing in July, and now with tensions in the Middle East, it is probably going to get worse,” Brewster said.
For owner-operator respondents, fuel costs were the number one concern for a third consecutive year.
Baylor said at her company there is focus put on deadhead miles to better address the higher fuel costs. And they are looking at any way innovation and technology can help reduce fuel consumption and cost.
But, there is a simple way to lower fuel costs, as Key pointed out. “As much as nobody wants to hear it, slower is better, at least to a point,” he said.
Brewster pointed to an overarching situation that can cause fleets to burn more fuel — traffic congestion.
“We quantified the amount of fuel that the industry wastes in a year as a result of congestion, and it is significant,” Brewster said.
4. Driver Shortage
The driver shortage ranked as the fourth highest concern this year, sliding from its second-place position a year ago. Brewster, Baylor, and Key all suggested the industry needs to continue its efforts to recruit young people into trucking as a career choice.
Key said things like outreach and putting young people in simulators so they can see what it is like to drive is beneficial to building the next generation of drivers.
“And a lot of people just don't realize what all it involves and what we're trying to offer. So, we spend a fair amount of time talking about those things,” said Key.
5. Driver Compensation
Driver compensation actually dropped a spot, landing in the fifth position for 2023.
Brewster said ATRI found in looking at the operational cost of trucking, there has been a 15.5% increase in driver wages per mile. She said fleets are responding to the need to raise rates to keep the good drivers.
6. Driver Distraction
Brewster cited National Highway Transportations Safety Administration statistics that reported in 2021 more than 3,500 people were killed in vehicle accidents caused by distracted driving, and cell phone use was often in play.
Key affirmed the importance of how cell phone use can contribute to distracted driving, and said the focus now is on educating drivers not to use their phones as well as teaching them to be aware of other possible distractions while driving.
7. Lawsuit Abuse Reform
This year, lawsuit abuse reform ranked as the sixth highest concern overall. However, among motor carrier respondents it was higher, ranking as the third highest concern.
Baylor said she was told in a recent conversation that some of the “billboard lawyers” that seek plaintiffs who have been in traffic collisions budget and spend more than $1 million per month on advertising. Many times, those advertising campaigns target individuals who have been in a collision with a commercial truck.
“To me, that was absolutely stunning. So, if you're not involved already with the legal reform advisory committee with the ATA, please get involved,” she urged. She also suggested those in attendance get involved with their respective state trucking associations.
8. Driver Retention
Driver retention ranked as the eighth biggest concern for the industry in 2023 after sliding one position down in the rankings from seventh last year.
Among motor carrier responders, driver retention actually fell two spots, from sixth to eighth, over the past year.
“Just from an economic standpoint, it makes so much more sense to retain the drivers you have rather than to engage in having to go out and find new drivers, go through the cost of recruiting, and the cost of training,” emphasized Brewster.
Another point she shared is when you hire a new driver you don't necessarily start off with a driver familiar with your fleet’s equipment, and often the safest drivers that are ones that know your equipment already.
Baylor said one thing she does is about once a month engage with her drivers in a live format via Facebook. She listens to her concerns, such as a shipper who causes delays or breakdowns that keep drivers from getting back home on time.
During hiring, her drivers go through three interviews. One of those focuses on fleet leadership’s learning what is important to each driver, whether it is making it home for a child’s soccer match or getting back in time for church on Sunday.
Key pointed out how compensation is really important, especially in times when it is hard to recruit drivers.
9. Detention/Delay at Customer Facilities
Driver detention and delay at customer facilities dropped in the ranking, moving from the sixth-ranked concern last year to ninth in 2023.
ATRI is just starting a new study looking at the cost of detention to motor carriers, to drivers, and to the supply chain. Brewster pointed to how that research will be a starting point to identify potential solutions.
Key said detention/delay is talked about a lot among the drivers.
“If the wheels aren’t turning, then you’re not making any money,” he said.
He also pointed out that if delay/detention causes a driver to miss his or her next appointment, then they might miss a complete load, again costing them money.
10. Zero-Emission Vehicles
So, what would happen if someone could flip a switch and all of the country’s trucks immediately became battery-electric vehicles? Well, ATRI took a look at that.
Brewster said if all vehicles, cars and trucks were battery electric, they would require over 40% of the nation's current electricity generation. So, more infrastructure is needed.
“We also looked at the truck parking challenges that are associated with such a switch. Because if you want to have battery-electric trucks that need to be charged, really you need to have a charger in every single truck parking space,” Brewster pointed out.
She said ATRI found it could cost more than $36 billion to deploy such infrastructure across the existing parking spaces, which of course would become even more costly if the needed parking is added.