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Trucking Research Factors

Trucking Research Factors

The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) has identified its research priorities, so we wanted to take a moment to dive into each of those research priorities to see what it means for the trucking industry. According to their latest report, they are identifying the following as critical trucking industry issues:

  • Trucking safety for younger truck drivers;
  • ROI on new truck safety tech;
  • “Nuclear” verdict impacts on trucking companies;
  • Truck parking issues, and;
  • Increasing tolls.

These are essentially research topics that were voted on by the board of the transportation research organization. What the organization studies throughout the year will be directly influenced by this list. Time to dive into each topic individually.

Safety for Younger Truck Drivers

It is no secret that because of the massive wave of new truck drivers entering the transportation sector, safety has become a concern. There are so many “green” truckers on the road, that even with new regulations and safety technology, accidents involving large commercial motor vehicles have not dropped.

As such, ATRI wants to better quantify the safety performance of 18 – 20-year-old truck drivers driving intrastate operations versus experienced interstate truck drivers. This is happening among the backdrop of the federal government mulling allowing 18 – 20-year-olds to haul interstate freight as well.

There is a decided lack of data looking into 18 – 20-year-old truck drivers. But studies completed among the general population do show that the younger a driver is, the greater the chance that they maybe involved in an accident. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those aged 16 to 19 are nearly three times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than those 20 and older.

Many transportation industry groups assert that proper training would decrease these risks. Safety technology has also been touted as an automatic go-to to eliminate fatal crashes among younger drivers. Will lawmaker’s push to lower the legal age for interstate trucking ultimately pass? Furthermore, will it make a big difference where safety and employment levels are concerned? ATRI aims to find out.

Reevaluating ROI on Truck Safety Tech

Next up on ATRI’s list is to update the cost-benefit analysis for advanced safety technologies being deployed on modern big rigs. ATRI already conducted an analysis for the FMCSA previously, but it was based on older technologies. This new study will look closer at new technologies, specifically ones that have added a large amount to the cost of doing business for trucking.

ROI on truck safety tech has long been a simmering question fleets grapple with. One example of the debate takes us back to when automatic emergency braking (AEB) systems were coming online. At the time they were being introduced, there were many instances of false alerts and low braking performance. Many fleets questioned the need for these systems.

Since then, however, later generations of the technology have reduced the rate of false alerts and improved braking performance. Now, many fleets could not imagine operating without AEB systems installed on their vehicles. Another area that is under greater ROI scrutiny are truck driver monitoring systems.

Many fleets are currently asking how well these systems improve vehicle safety. While ATRI compiles the new research data, it is important to note that many technologies that were once considered too expensive or cumbersome to implement have come a long way. They are now critical components on new semi-trucks.

From lane departure warning systems, telematics, and video data, there are so many new safety technologies available to fleets today, having some research backing up their effectiveness will save fleets a lot of time and money trying new technologies without knowing whether those technologies are right for their fleet.

Examining “Nuclear” Verdict Impacts

It should be a surprise to no one in the trucking industry that jury awards and out-of-court settlements are on the rise in the trucking industry. As such, ATRI wants to document and quantify the historical trends and business impacts associated with such verdicts.

The problem is that “nuclear” verdicts are taking a big toll on insurance firms’ willingness to underwrite trucking companies. Trucking companies already have a bulls-eye painted on their back by the plaintiff’s bar. Still, some of the jury awards and decisions have been positively eye-watering. Take a case in Texas against Werner Enterprises, Inc., a large truckload carrier and logistics provider.

In the Texas case, the jury awarded a plaintiff $89 million over a fatal accident that happened on December 30, 2014. In this particular case, a pick-up truck lost control and ended up in oncoming traffic, where it collided with an oncoming Werner Enterprises tractor-trailer. The case has stunned the trucking industry.

The family involved in the accident contended that Werner should have known better than to let the truck operate during the weather conditions that were present at the time of the accident. Even though the truck driver was not cited and was driving below the posted speed limit, the family’s attorney stated that the truck should have been traveling even lower than that due to a weather hazard.

Now, the insurance company backing Werner Enterprises is appealing the verdict, as it would have to pay $79 million of the verdict, whereas Werner would only need to pay $10 million. A “nuclear” verdict is essentially a jury award totaling millions of dollars. These verdicts create chaos on a trucking company’s claims-loss ratios.

On average, insurers paid out $111 in claims during 2017 for each $100 they charge in premiums, which is an unsustainable paradigm for the insurance companies. In fact, many large insurers have completely exited the trucking insurance market altogether. Hopefully, the ATRI research will help shed some light on this intractable issue.

Truck Parking in the Spotlight

We have been talking about the truck parking problem for quite some time. ATRI is going to investigate developing an ideal truck parking data format that can be standardized based on truck driver preferences. According to ATRI’s own prior research, truck drivers spend an average of one hour searching for parking during a given work day.

Even more, according to the American Trucking Associations (ATA) data, there are only 300,000 parking spots available for the nation’s three million truck drivers. Of course, the problem will be more acute in some areas than others, but it is a large problem none-the-less.

Another ATRI study also shows that a whopping 58 percent of all truck drivers admit to parking in an unauthorized or undesignated spot at least three times a week. Even 10 percent reported that they park off the grid every day. Parking off the grid presents many problems, the first of which being a truck driver’s personal safety.

The lack of available parking for truck drivers hits both the truck drivers and the motor carriers financially. The lost time a truck driver spends looking for a parking spot equates to $4,600 in lost wages per year! That is no small amount of money. Nonproductive trips or trip time are incredibly detrimental to truck drivers working on a per-mile basis. The motor carrier suffers productivity issues because the truck driver is too busy looking for parking when they could be already on to the next haul.

Furthermore, if a law enforcement officer spots a truck parked illegally, they could issue a citation, which will cut into the motor carrier’s profits and end up with a violation. When a trucker is dealing with hours of service obligations, all while trying to prevent fatigue and stay safe on the road, inadequate parking becomes a major safety liability.

The New Normal for Truck Tolls

The final research topic on ATRI’s docket will surround truck tolls. As we have reported on before, truck tolls are making a major impact on the trucking industry, and not always in a good way. Trucking companies all over the country are faced with mounting financial pressures as states try to find ways to improve their bottom lines.

With states like Rhode Island kicking off statewide tolling systems, trucking companies and trucking advocacy organizations have initiated a big legal battle to prevent the tolls from going into effect. The outcome of these legal battles is far from certain.

ATRI wants to look at whether the growth in E-commerce and other evolving industry trends has resulted in an unsustainable and unaffordable paradigm for trucking companies. They also want to include a re-think of how trucking companies look at safety metrics in with this study. Should companies be evaluating their safety records on a per million vehicle miles traveled or is that an antiquated way of determining optimal safety levels?

The fact is, the trucking industry has gone through some big changes in the past several years. Having a research organization look into the various changes and how they are impacting fleet operations helps everyone. Hopefully, once ATRI’s 2019 data set is released, the transportation sector will have answers to some of its most vexing questions.

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