Two top trends -- ELDs and the driver shortage -- collided with driver protests in early December. Screenshot from WSYR TV

Two top trends -- ELDs and the driver shortage -- collided with driver protests in early December. Screenshot from WSYR TV

As 2017 draws to a close, I wanted to share my picks for the top trends and stories of the year. Many of these will continue into 2018 and beyond. Tell us in the comments – how does this compare to your list of top trends? What do you see for the year ahead?

1. The ELD mandate

If I were Time magazine and naming a person of the year, it would have to be the electronic logging device mandate that went into effect Dec. 18. When I look at our statistics for, our March cover story, 14 Things You Need to Know Before ELDs Become Mandatory, was far and away the most popular article of the year. And of course we did many more stories on ELDs, from the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association’s legal challenges and lobbying push to a number of clarifications from the Federal Motor Carrier Administration about the rule – stories that you’ll find all together in our special ELD channel.

Tied into ELDs, of course, and in reality the source of many of the complaints about electronic logs, are issues with the hours of service rules. In 2017, trucking sighed in relief as a controversial 2013 rule restricting the 34-hour restart was killed. And just getting under way is a federal study to look at the potential for bringing back split sleeper berth time.

2. The Driver Shortage

The driver shortage topped the American Transportation Research Institute’s annual critical issues survey, surging six spots higher from the previous year. In fact, the top five on the list are all related to drivers, including ELDs, hours of service, truck parking and driver retention. And the National Transportation Institute, which tracks driver pay packages, said driver pay is poised to spike. Looking at some of our most popular feature of the year, we see a nine-year old story on the Top 10 Reasons Drivers Leave and a 2013 one on 9 Ideas to Find and Keep drivers, showing that this is a tenacious issue that is only getting worse. The American Trucking Associations released its first updated report on the driver shortage since 2015, which projected the shortage to reach 50,000 by the end of 2017, and if current trends hold, more than 174,000 by 2026.

Related to drivers was the question of misclassification – drivers who companies say are independent contractors but who they really treat as employees. At the federal level, the Trump administration rescinded a 2015 Obama administration memo that classified leased owner-operators as employees, allowing carriers to classify them as independent contractors. However, USA Today highlighted egregious examples of worker abuse at the southern California ports, drawing attention to the issue.

3. 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.

That same attitude toward regulatory relief may also be behind the apparent success of some trailer makers and glider kit makers to get the government to consider granting a reprieve from the Phase 2 Greenhouse Gas regulations affecting their products.

4. Autonomous Technologies

Another popular topic on our website was autonomous trucks, as well as the advanced driver assistance systems that are the stepping-stones that could make them possible.

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 self-driving car legislative 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.

5. Changing Logistics Models

We spent several installments of our Trucking in the 21st Century series in the first part of the year looking at how e-commerce and other trends are changing the logistics picture. E-commerce and omnichannel marketing, for instance, are prompting many fleets to get into last-mile delivery, and are changing freight patterns for other types of trucking as well.

Then there's “Uber for freight,” promising to cut out the middleman and bring Uber- and Lyft-type ride-sharing technologies to the freight market. Uber itself launched such an app, but other companies already in the market noted that it’s not exactly unique.

Meanwhile, Walmart decided to get tighter on its delivery window, saying it would now charge carriers extra fees for deliveries that are late, mispackaged – or delivered earlier than the scheduled delivery time.

6. Electric trucks

The 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.

7. Merger Mania

In November, Reuters reported, “The consolidation of the U.S. trucking industry is picking up speed, with big trucking companies and private equity funds scooping up smaller firms as a U.S. regulatory mandate is set to go into effect and as drivers push for higher wages.”

The biggest deal of the year, of course, was the merger of Swift Transportation, the sixth-largest U.S. trucking company, and Knight Transportation, the 23rd-largest. But there are plenty of others. For instance, Daseke Inc. continues its work to create a giant in the open-deck market; NFI bought CalCartage; Heartland bought Interstate Distributor, and more.

In our June issue, we spoke to Lana Batts, partner emeritus of Transport Capital Partners, a consulting firm specializing in transportation mergers and acquisitions, who credited the wave of mergers and acquisitions to “the maturing of the truckload industry…and faith in the future.”


Deborah Lockridge
Deborah Lockridge

Editor in Chief

Reporting on trucking since 1990, Deborah is known for her award-winning magazine editorials and in-depth features on diverse issues, from the driver shortage to maintenance to rapidly changing technology. 28 Jesse H. Neal honors.

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Reporting on trucking since 1990, Deborah is known for her award-winning magazine editorials and in-depth features on diverse issues, from the driver shortage to maintenance to rapidly changing technology. 28 Jesse H. Neal honors.

View Bio