Worries on Wheels

Survey identifies ten major trucking industry concerns.

The Biggest Concern for truckers is the impact of federal regulations on their work schedules. According to a 2007 survey by the Arlington, Va.-based American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), a ruling last year by the U.S. Court of Appeals that mandated an 11-hour driving provision and 34-hour restart period is ranked as the most critical issue facing the U.S. trucking industry. Hours of service narrowly edged out a shortage of drivers, which was ranked as the industry's biggest concern in 2006.

The Arlington, Va.-based American Trucking Association asked ATRI — the industry's non-profit research organization — to conduct the survey, which received responses from more than 50 of the largest trucking companies in the United States. “Trucking is unusual in that there are a great many more small companies than large companies, but large companies handle the great majority of overall freight and operate the great majority of trucks on the road,” says William McDonald, a research associate for ATRI.

The institute reports that a debate over service hours results from federal safety regulations significantly restricting the flexibility of drivers' work schedules, which reduces their ability to match pick-up and delivery schedules demanded by shippers.

According to ATRI, 60 percent of the respondents pointed to hours of service as one of their three main issues, compared to 59 percent that named driver shortages as one of their top three concerns. Those two issues have ranked in the top four of the industry's concerns for each of the three years the survey has been conducted — possibly indicating a close correlation. “Furthermore, with the [hours of service] rules in flux and the potential for fewer daily driving hours as a result, more drivers may be needed to haul the same amount of freight,” the report states.

Among the most popular solutions proposed to address these issues are increased flexibility for the split-sleeper berth provision — a way for drivers to break up hours within a particular shift — and further research into the relationship between driver compensation and driver shortage and retention.

Rising fuel prices ranked as the third-highest industry concern, after ranking first in 2005 and second in 2006. ATRI attributes the drop in the rankings to the expanded use of fuel surcharges despite the fact that oil prices continue to climb to record highs. The most popular solution proposed, according to the report, is increasing oil supplies through expanded exploration and increased refining capabilities.

Other issues rounding out the top 10 list were congestion, tolls/highway funding, tort reform and legal issues, driver training and education, environmental issues, and on-board truck technology.

According to the report, the survey is conducted in two phases. The first phase included a survey designed to identify key topic areas of concerns that was distributed to a representative sample of carriers. ATRI then analyzed and categorized the initial responses in order to distribute a second survey to a larger sample of carriers in order to rank the categories. McDonald says most of the responses came from larger carriers, which is normal because larger companies are impacted more by regulation and have more resources to allow them to participate in research.

“Trucking is unusual in that there are a great many more small companies than large companies, but large companies handle the great majority of overall freight and operate the great majority of trucks on the road,” he says.

For the full report, visit www.atri-online.org.