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ATRI: Top 10 list for 2017 a ‘perfect storm’ of trucking issues

Annual survey indicates the ongoing shortage of truck drivers is the number one challenge motor carriers say they face.

ORLANDO. The annual “Top 10 list” of trucking industry issues compiled by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) every year indicates the driver shortage is the top issue facing fleets for 2017.

Based on 1,500 responses from motor carriers and commercial truck drivers, ATRI’s annual survey found the “significant need” for qualified drivers to haul the nation's upsurge freight volumes surged six spots in the annual survey to top the list of concerns this year.

ATRI’s list also indicates a “sea-change” is underway in terms of motor carrier safety and profitability, according to Andrew Boyle, executive vice president of Boyle Transportation.

“Over the couple of decades, much of the ‘economic risk’ of the trucking industry was borne by professional drivers,” he explained here during a press event at the 2017 American Trucking Associations (ATA) Management Conference and Exhibition.

“Now I think that is shifting back to trucking companies, and the burden is now upon us to provide better quality of life and more predictability in earnings to draw in new entrants,” Boyle said.

ATRI analysis of industry operational data indicates that motor carriers are broadly boosting pay and benefits. Though the average marginal cost per mile for trucking companies in 2016 dipped to $1.59, that’s largely due to low fuel prices, which fell 17% between 2015 and 2016.

By contrast, driver wages and benefits increased by 5% and 18%, respectively, between 2015 and 2016.  As a result, for the second year in a row since ATRI started collecting the industry's operational expense data, driver costs now represent a higher percentage of overall trucking company costs than does fuel. 

ATRI President Rebecca Brewster added during the press conference that electronic logging devices (ELDs) remain the top concern among truck drivers in the firm’s annual “Top 10” issue polling, but believes it is more an offshoot of the third-ranked concern among drivers: hours of service (HOS) rules.

“We think ELD concerns are really tied in to HOS concerns, based on the survey responses,” she said. “The reason they conflate the two is a lack of flexibility in the HOS rules.”

Brewster noted that where fleets are concerned, the ELD mandate ranked second on the top 10 list, followed by: HOS rules at number three; adequate availability of truck parking at number four; driver retention at number five; concerns over the Compliance Safety Accountability (CSA) program at number six; the “cumulative impact of regulations” at number seven; driver distraction at number eight; infrastructure, traffic congestion and highway funding in a tie for ninth place; and finally driver health and wellness rounding the list out in 10th place.

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