Top 10 Challenges Facing Trucking

The American Transportation Research Institute’s (ATRI) report, Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry—2008, points to fuel costs and the economy as the major headaches. But, there are eight more.

ATRI, part of the American Trucking Associations Federation, is a not-for-profit research trust headquartered in Arlington, VA. Its mission is to “conduct research in the field of transportation, with an emphasis on the trucking industry's essential role in a safe, efficient, and viable transportation system.”

In reflecting on ATRI’s work, Bill Graves, ATA president and CEO notes that, "On every legislative and regulatory topic, issues come and go so quickly today. If we're not at the table with sound, science-based information and a common sense plan of action, then we're going to get left behind, and saddled with solutions that have no bearing on moving America's freight safely and efficiently."

Here is the Top Ten list with observations on each quoted directly from the report.

  1. Fuel Costs. After ranking 1st in 2005, 2nd in 2006 and 3rd in 2007, fuel once again attained the top ranking. Though motor carriers in 2008 aggressively sought to recoup fuel cost increases with fuel surcharges, the industry simply could not keep pace with the unprecedented rise in diesel fuel costs.
  2. Economy. As high fuel prices, a deepening credit crisis and rising inflationary pressures take a greater toll on the US economy, the industry is pressed by increasing regulations, slumping demand, excess capacity and increases in both fixed and marginal key cost centers.
  3. Driver Shortage/Retention. Although the persistent sluggishness of the economy relieves some pressure, respondents clearly remain concerned.
  4. Government Regulation. Though primary safety regulation is the mandate of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, carriers face other significant regulations imposed by federal, state and local authorities.
  5. Hours-of-Service. Hours-of-Service (HOS), was the top ranked issue in 2007. It slipped four places in 2008. In 2008 however, concern over potential changes in HOS regulations has been supplanted by issues that are having a more direct impact on carrier operations and profitability.
  6. Congestion. Though the issue has seen a steady increase in rankings since 2005, its drop from 4th place in 2007 to 6th may be explained by recent declines in vehicle trips and vehicle miles traveled resulting from fuel price increases for all road users.
  7. Tolls/Highway Funding. These issues have gained prominence from several events, including the US Department of Transportation announcement that the Highway Trust Fund was running out of money and the rejection of a congestion-pricing program in New York City.
  8. Environmental Issues. The proliferation of anti-idling regulations and other emission reduction initiatives sought by more state and local governments has created concern that the compliance costs may exceed benefits.
  9. Tort Reform. It seeks to minimize industry harm caused by inequitable and excessive civil judgments against trucking firms. The trucking industry, reflective of many other industries, seeks to clarify the distinction between civil tort liability and punitive damage awards.
  10. Onboard Truck Technology. The industry understands and supports many of the potential benefits of these technologies, even though many questions remain. The most prolific technology topic is Electronic Onboard Recorders (EOBRs), most often cited as a potentially effective tool for monitoring HOS compliance.
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