There are dozens of impending changes in the trucking industry. With new legislation passing monthly, upgrades in technology happening weekly and concerns being addressed daily, it seems that the only constant in this industry is change. So what are some of the biggest things on the horizon?
This is by no means a new problem, but it is a problem that’s creating huge changes in the trucking industry. With an estimated 890,000 drivers needed in the next decade and high turnover rates across the board, the industry is struggling to find a solution. When paired with the fact that freight volume is forecasted to increase 29% in the next 11 years, these statistics get downright scary. People are calling for collaboration among fleets, offering more benefits to drivers, mass recruiting and even working on passing legislation that allows drivers as young as 18 to carry freight across state lines. While there may not be any one solution, the one thing we do know is that change is coming.
Long-Term Highway Bill
The Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015 (STRRA). Have you heard of it? Maybe you don’t know it by title, but you have definitely heard about how it’s causing changes in the trucking industry. The most noted reform in this bill is a measure that allows states to create “compacts” that lower the minimum age to cross state lines from 21 to either 18 or 19 (depending on the version) to help alleviate driver shortages. While the Internet is abuzz with the potential minimum age reduction, the STRRA is first and foremost a 6-year plan to spend $325 billion on improving national infrastructure, and hopefully combatting congestion problems. At the same time, this bill has language that would allow for the nationwide operation of twin 33-foot trailers and for states to be able to change the maximum weight limit to 91,000 pounds, both of which have raised safety concerns with the Trucking Safety Coalition.
As technology revolutionizes the trucking industry, many look to autonomous trucks to combat the impending driver shortages. Will these self-driving trucks soon cause major changes in the trucking industry? Sort of. Most “autonomous trucks” are actually only level 3 autonomous, meaning that drivers can cede safety-critical functions under certain conditions, but are able to take back full control at anytime. While companies such as Freightliner say they have no intention of creating a level 4, fully autonomous truck, research from Frost & Sullivan predicts that as many as 182,000 level 3 trucks could be on the roads by 2035. The report goes on to say that the factors that affect the popularity of autonomous trucks include cost, social acceptance, legislation and the maturity of the technology.
This problem is the offspring of driver shortages and the recovering economy. On one hand, fleet owners have been seeing an increase in demand over the past couple of years that have many companies operating around 95% capacity. While this seems like a great change in pace for the industry, the reality is that it limits growth. For the companies that are operating at a high-capacity, the ongoing driver shortages and the inevitable worsening the shortage discourage fleet growth. The Wall Street Journal reports that others, such as Aaron Tennant, president of an Illinois-based company, Tennant Truck Lines Inc., have percentages of their fleet sitting vacant, costing tens of thousands of dollars a month.