A trucker once told me this joke:
What do you get when you put a dozen truck drivers in a basement?
Answer: A whine cellar.
You don’t have to be a driver to know there are plenty of things we can complain about in trucking: the high cost of equipment or insurance, shortages of drivers and technicians, the increasing barrage of federal regulations, higher taxes and highway tolls, litigation-hungry truck crash lawyers, or any one of a host of other issues we struggle with every day.
But it’s November, so in honor of Thanksgiving, I thought I would devote this space this month to a few things we could be thankful for.
1. Fuel prices.
It wasn’t that long ago that the industry was in a panic as diesel prices shot up above $3, above $4, and $5, and even higher in some places. But the past couple of years we’ve actually enjoyed relatively stable and relatively low fuel prices. U.S. Department of Energy figures show the average price of on-highway diesel in 2014 was $3.83 per gallon. That dropped to $2.71 last year, and as of mid-October the forecast was for it to average 2.31 for 2016. The forecast is calling for that to rise somewhat for 2017 to an average of $2.69, but still well short of the near-$4 average of 2012.
2. Trucks that drivers want to drive.
Truck and engine makers had their hands full in the previous decade figuring out how to meet EPA emissions mandates for particulate matter and NOx. We saw fuel economy and reliability go down. Now engineers and designers are able to devote time to improving fuel economy (driven partially by federal GHG emissions regulations, but providing a benefit to truck owners as well as to the environment). Uptime has been a major focus of these redesigns as well as in efforts at dealers.
And they are designing trucks with drivers in mind. Truck makers are spending a lot of time with drivers of all shapes and sizes, ages and genders and ethnicities, to find out what they like and don’t like. New trucks are quieter and ride more smoothly (see the NVH story in this issue.) They’re ergonomic, with gauges and controls easy to see and reach. Visibility is better than ever. Sleepers are better designed to keep drivers comfortable when they’re not driving.
Used to be, only big companies with sophisticated IT departments could take full advantage of computer technologies that allowed them to do everything from route trucks efficiently to analyze which lanes were profitable. Today, incredible advances in technology allow even the smallest trucking companies to get a better handle on their costs; to let customers know exactly where their load is and when it’s going to be delivered; to diagnose vehicles on the road and get them to a shop to improve downtime; to monitor safety performance and address any problems with CSA scores proactively; to improve safety with everything from rollover prevention to collision mitigation technology; and much more. For many things, you don’t need banks of servers in a back room; the computer you carry in your pocket (which also happens to make calls) will do the trick.
Of course, rarely is anything black and white, and each of these comes with potential drawbacks. But in the spirit of the season, let’s get out of the “whine cellar” and take a little time to count our blessings.