One of the reason I enjoy covering trucking is because there’s always something new to write about. After 27 years, I think 2017 may be the most eventful year yet.
More than one person has said we’re facing the biggest changes since deregulation in 1980. That change drove quite a few carriers out of business. We’re doing our best to try to keep our readers informed so they aren’t caught unprepared for this new world of trucking.
We tried to address many of the sea changes going on – what’s pushing trucking onto the cusp of major disruption — with our Trucking in the 21st Century Series. We’ve written about smart trucks and highways, about the changes being driven by e-commerce, cybersecurity, and more. And we’ve worked to stay on top of the news and issues affecting our industry.
Here are my picks for five of the biggest stories and trends of the year:
1. Regulation relief
While the Trump administration has had a tough time getting some of its promised reforms through Congress, including infrastructure funding, it has provided some regulatory relief through President Trump’s executive order calling for two regulations to be rescinded for every new one. Some potentially onerous rulemakings were withdrawn by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, including sleep apnea screening and a mandatory speed limiter rule – both important issues — but the proposed rules in both cases had some significant problems.
One regulation that the government, in my mind rightly, refused to back down on is the electronic logging device mandate going into effect this month. However, I think FMCSA and the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance did make a smart move in realizing that neither the industry nor enforcement is truly ready for the rule. So, there’s a bit of a breather till April 1, with no out-of-service orders or CSA points assessed for not having an ELD. But you could still be subject to fines.
3. Electric trucks
Last month’s flashy Tesla Semi announcement may have been the most hyped electric truck introduction of the year, but the truck, which is still two years out and carries a lot of unanswered questions, was preceded by a number of more real-world electric truck developments this year. Companies such as Navistar (teaming up with VW), Mitsubishi Fuso, Workhorse, Cummins, Meritor, Eaton, Motiv, and Chanje announced electrification projects in various stages of completion. Daimler Trucks North America says its goal is to develop an e-Cascadia, while Nikola and Toyota are working on fuel-cell-electric Class 8 trucks.
The mainstream press continues to breathlessly write about “self-driving trucks,” the American Trucking Associations came out with its first official autonomous truck policy, and federal lawmakers seem to be determined to leave trucking out of its self-driving car efforts. However, many in the trucking industry have shifted to talking about ADAS, or advanced driver assistance systems. These are technologies that could be the building blocks of automated driving, but already offer benefits to trucks with drivers, such as increasing improvements to collision mitigation, and going beyond lane departure warning to active lane-keeping.
Finding and keeping safe, qualified truck drivers is hardly a new problem, but this year it seems to have hit a new peak. For the first time since 2006, the driver shortage is number one on the American Transportation Research Institute’s annual top industry issues report, surging six spots higher. ATA said in October that we’re due to be short 50,000 drivers by the end of the year. While truck sales are up, many fleets say they would add more if they had drivers to put in them. And carriers are raising driver pay and experimenting with different pay structures, even hourly pay.