The trucking industry spent an unprecedented $87.7 billion on fuel last year. And you've got to expect the fuel bill to only go up. While engine makers claim that the lower-emission engines of 2007 won't have reduced fuel economy, the 2002 engines did bring with them a major fuel economy penalty. Even if we don't see the same in 2007, there certainly won't be any fuel economy improvement.

And experts are predicting fuel prices will continue to rise. It's possible you could be looking at $7 a gallon diesel in the not-so-distant future (see Doug Condra's column on page 6).

Perhaps the easiest way to save fuel? Shut 'em down. And more and more fleets are looking at idle-reduction technologies that keep drivers comfortable while conserving fuel.

Soon, truckers might not have a choice. Idling of commercial vehicles is receiving unprecedented attention throughout the country. More than 30 states, counties or cities have regulations limiting vehicle idling. And EPA is working on developing a model anti-idle law.

The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), the trucking industry's not-for-profit research organization, released the results of a national survey on the issue at the recent Winter Leadership Meeting of the American Trucking Associations.

The survey provides data on more than 55,000 trucks and offers a timely snapshot on the extent of idling and of the use of idle-reduction technologies among trucking companies.

Key findings:

• Sleeper cabs were reported to idle an average of 28 hours per week, which equates to 1,456 hours annually.

• Daycabs were reported to idle an average of six hours per week, which equates to 312 hours a year.

• The average cost of idling was estimated at $3 per hour. (The average cost of diesel during the time of the survey was $2.35 to $3.14 a gallon.)

Based on 2005 average retail price of diesel ($2.40 a gallon), sleeper cab operators spent an average of $3,494 to idle a truck, while daycab operators spent an average of $749.

Participants in the survey have already spent more than $8.8 million equipping sleeper cabs with onboard idle-reduction technologies, including direct-fired heaters, auxiliary power units/generator sets, and battery-powered air conditioners. Over the next five years, participants plan to spend an additional $56 million to further deploy these technologies.

The average price they said they were willing to pay was $2,165, while most technologies are more expensive. But if incentives could offset half the purchase price, 48 percent of truckers said they would buy more expensive technologies.

Hopefully, legislation will pass that could help.

The ATA has endorsed a proposed tax credit for purchasing idling-reduction equipment introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Kay Granger, R-Texas. ATA also called for additional members of Congress to co-sponsor her bill, H.R. 4672.

Known as the "Idle Reduction Tax Act of 2006," the bill proposes a 25 percent tax credit, up to $1,000 for each idle-reduction device purchased by fleets. The credit would be available to all trucking companies.

Use of idle-reduction technologies not only conserves fuel, but also reduces our dependence on foreign oil. And that's no small thing. The nuclear standoff with Iran – combined with continuing turmoil in Nigeria – is leading to talk of oil prices jumping to more than $70 a barrel. Even more telling in terms of America's reliance on Middle Eastern oil: Iran is threatening to cut off oil exports to the West if the U.N. (led by the U.S.) does something it doesn't like. So that $7 a gallon might not be far-fetched.

EPA estimates that one truck consumes eight gallons of diesel fuel for every 10 hours of idling. That averages out to be 2,400 gallons.

At $7 a gallon, that should be incentive enough.

E-mail Deb Whistler at [email protected]