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The trucking technology tit-for-tat: Will trucking get anything in return for ever-increasing regs?

oversized-load-flatbed-e1368134579849Last week, heading into the Fourth of July holiday, news came that the U.S. Senate is consdering a bill that would set deadlines by which FMCSA must publish rules mandating e-logs and speed limiters.

Both of those rules are already in the works, but could come quicker than they would have if this bill does pass Congress and become law.

That news came hard on the heels of another DOT agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, publishing a rule mandating stability control systems on all new trucks manufactured August 2017 and later.

Then, just this morning, CCJ’s Tech Editor Aaron Huff posted an excellent story exploring ways fleets can use new technology to combat the severe driver shortage crippling the industry.

Related

Special edition: using technology to recruit and retain more drivers

Special edition: using technology to recruit and retain more drivers

A three-part series exploring how carriers are using technology to streamline the approach to recruiting, hiring and onboarding new drivers.

Lastly, another news piece this week was published here on CCJ about a shippers lobbying group, the Coalition for Transportation Productivity, calling on Congress to increase truck size and weight limits.

So, we here we have four very big news stories that are – at the moment – only tangentially related to each other. But I would argue that these four stories form the basis for a much larger conversation this industry needs to be having with both Congress and the American public about the state of trucking today and its ability to keep moving freight efficiently.

I’ve written at length about trucking as low-hanging fruit for regulators and its never-ending role as a political and regulatory punching bag in our national dialogue. But what tends to get lost in the conversation is the fact that our economy is shifting more and more to a complex, highly-interwoven global model that relies heavily on ever-increasing Internet sales and ever-faster logistics to keep moving forward. Efficient trucking operations are absolutely vital for keeping this economic engine alive and healthy.

Which means that at some point, trucking is going to need to get something back in return for all the new regulations and safety mandates it has been forced to comply with in the recent past and will be forced to comply with in the very near future.

Of course, the biggest single hurdle today to a healthy and productive trucking industry is the driver shortage. And while everyone is trying to attract, train and retain drives today, the stark truth is the industry simply doesn’t have enough drivers to man the trucks it needs out on the roads today. And there’s no way it’s going to attract anywhere near the number of drivers it will need to maintain our current freight levels, much less increase those levels in the near future.

This is a problem that is going to require the attention of our country as a whole. It’s not something that the trucking industry can solve all by itself.

Now, if you think I’m going to talk about autonomous trucks as the solution to this problem, you’re wrong. No doubt, autonomous vehicles will eventually play a role in solving these problems. But we’re still several years away from seeing those solutions entering the marketplace.

We need short-term fixes now that will enable trucking to keep up with skyrocketing freight demand and (literally) keep the economy moving forward.

Which brings me back to the Coalition for Transportation Productivity’s call for another look at size and weight restrictions.

My argument here is very simple: We’re told over and over again that safety mandates combined with upcoming levels of vehicle automation will soon be delivering the safest commercial vehicles in the entire history of motorized transport. These new vehicles – along with a whole new breed of self-driving cars – are so revolutionary, we’re told, that soon traffic accidents will be a thing of the past and insurance companies are worried about how they’ll make money.

OK — fine. I’m on board with that whole concept. Technology has now made trucks safer than ever before. Great!

So, tell me now why these amazingly safer trucks can’t be bigger and carry more payload in order to maximize the productivity of the highly trained, highly skilled and still highly limited numbers of drivers available to take them down the road?

Again: Trucks in the very near future are going to be safer than ever before. And autonomous trucks may one day help ease the driver shortage. But, in the meantime, this country needs practicable solutions to help it keep freight moving. If that doesn’t happen, the country as a whole will eventually suffer.

The proposals advocated by the CTP are modest enough that the average four-wheel driver would never notice them out on the highway: the addition of a sixth axle and a GVWR increase up to 97,000 pounds. Such a move would give both the industry and the nation immediate, and far-reaching benefits including:

  • Reduced vehicle miles traveled
    • Lowered total national logistics costs
    • Reduced pavement restoration costs with manageable bridge impacts
    • Reduced fuel consumption
    • Fewer emissions

The argument here is simple: Trucking as an industry has played ball with the government on a whole host of regulatory issues from hours-of-service to CSA to safety mandates to emissions to sleep apnea to anti-idling to driver health – and on and on and on.

In return for working to meet all these new standards and rules, this industry has asked for virtually nothing in return from the federal government.

That needs to change.

I’d say it’s time for the federal government, safety advocates and regulatory agencies to put their money where their collective mouths are: If all these new rules, regulations and mandated technologies are truly making trucks that much safer, then there’s no reason not to give trucking some useful in return for adopting them. And I’d say modest size and weight increases are an excellent place to start.

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