Despite being one of the most ubiquitous industries in the United States, there are a diverse range of pressing issues facing just about everyone in the commercial driving business. Honestly, it’s hard to just sit back and let things take their course because, as many people in the industry will tell you, this isn’t exactly a profession where you can kick back and coast for most of your career. Beyond hiring quality drivers, it takes hard work from each link in the supply chain to keep the flow of goods, services, drivers, and logistics running smoothly.
So what top issues in commercial driving are still alive and well? Here we’ll take a look at what many people, both recruiters and drivers, are facing on a daily basis and some potential ways to move the industry forward for years to come.
1. ELDs and the Supreme Court
As a move that still has many owner-operators voicing their resistance, the Supreme Court’s decision to leave in place the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) rule makes it clear that these devices are here to stay. Essentially, this rule calls for the Secretary of Transportation to adopt the proper regulations requiring ELD use in commercial vehicles driving interstate. After a rejected appeal by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), companies must be compliant by December 18th, 2017. This means installing the appropriate ELDs in all commercial vehicles made after the year 2000.
Despite some obvious benefits to having ELDs in all commercial vehicles, critics have made voiced concerns over constant surveillance, strict hours of service tracking, and the initial concerns of installing hundreds of devices in a relatively short amount of time. In any case, the industry is poised to comply to this new law of the land whether they want to or not.
2. Hours of Service
Trailing behind the recent ELD ruling is perhaps one of the true underlying issues for commercial drivers in the industry — the hours of service regulations themselves. Now with mandatory compliance meaning an ELD in every commercial vehicle, drivers are no longer able to “fudge” their paper logs for very good reasons. It used to be that if drivers were just 30 minutes away from home after getting caught in traffic that they could just “adjust” their hours of service. With ELDs such things are nearly impossible.
Although, many argue that the issue is not with ELDs themselves but with these stringent regulations on hours of service and their corresponding rest times. It’s understood now that fighting the ELD rule is really just a veiled attempt to get adjustments made to laws regarding hours of service, which is sure to continue on as in issue at least for now.
3. CSA Scores
Launched by the FMCSA in December of 2010, the Compliance, Safety, and Accountability (CSA) initiative was introduced as a way to improve the overall safety of commercial motor vehicles on the road. The intention was that the CSA program would put a more intense focus on companies that pose higher safety risks on the road than others. Still, many industry interests contend that the factors integrated into CSA scores are not always reliable predictors of safety.
Critics say that inconsistencies in the process of collecting CSA data in addition to issues about the accountability of crashes make it difficult to fully assess the commercial driving abilities of individuals. Even though the intention is to restrict lesser qualified drivers from being hired by companies that demand the highest degree of safety (which is most of them) CSA can haunt drivers for years to come for a variety of reasons they may or may not have had control over.
4. The Driver Shortage
Characterized by many as a matter of the quality of drivers rather than the quantity of people applying for jobs, the driver shortage continues to worsen with little sign of slowing based on reports from the ATA.
For almost two decades now, this shortage of drivers has made itself known to carriers struggling to find quality drivers to fill their trucks. At the time of the first report in 2005, the shortage was roughly 20,000 drivers but had since grown to a staggering 48,000 by the end of 2015. Should these trends hold, the shortage is projected to reach almost 175,000 by 2024.
As it stands, the driver shortage may actually feel much worse to motor carriers considering all of the previously mentioned issues — increasingly constrictive CSA scores, ELD mandates, and hours of services regulations. Pair this with high turnover rates and it’s as difficult as ever to get the quality drivers needed for the increasing volume of jobs out there — 890,000 over the next decade to be exact.
Now, many companies are looking to targeted demographics such as millennial drivers, female drivers, and drivers with military experience to pick up the torch!
5. The Autonomous Vehicle Revolution
Although it’s not quite the dawn of autonomous vehicles, these highly tech-laden trucks are just about to breach the horizon of the industry. Whether it’s Uber, Tesla, Google, or Nikola Motors, it’s quite obvious that we’re in for a heavily automated transportation industry as these vehicles clear their final hurdles to market. Just like many people were skeptical there’d ever be personal computers in every home, many companies are quietly bracing themselves for what seems like an impending disruption of incredible scale.
With a current 1.7 million trucking jobs in the U.S., it’s still unclear just how many people could be out of work once these self-driving vehicles hit the roads. Predictions by MIT’s Technology Review place this technology at 5-10 years before it’s fully available, however, it’s certain that it will forever alter the nature of the commercial driving industry.
Throw alternative energy sources like natural gas and hydrogen fuel cells into the mix and we’re bound to see a gigantic shift in the types of vehicles — and drivers — making their way across the United States and many countries throughout the world.