CSA, HOS still h-o-t at ATA MC&E

The French have a fancy way of saying it, but the trucking industry is living it: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

That’s my takeaway from the American Trucking Associations Management Conference and Exhibition in Orlando this week.

Exhibit A: The American Transportation Research Institute’s annual list of the most critical issues in trucking. Hours-of-service regs and the Compliance Safety Accountability program are back to the top spots.

Of course, that’s because the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration won’t leave well enough alone. As one trucking exec after another told me, the industry is fully capable of making the changes needed to make things work – and they’re quite proud of their ability to overcome any challenge. But these ever-changing regulations would be laughable if they weren’t so serious.

Indeed, I counted four different meetings where CSA was either the sole focus or a significant item of discussion, and there wasn’t a whole lot cheering going on. That’s exactly three years after an SRO crowd at an MCE session hoped to get the final, official word on the new safety regime that would be officially launched two months later. If we’d only known then … .

What happens when CSA critics use the system’s own data to point to flaws? Look for news coverage from CCJ in the coming days.

The good news is the economy is no longer a disaster. After being the #1 concern from 2009-2011, it’s improved from being a crisis to just an annoyance, slipping to fourth on the ATRI list.

In this week’s economy panel at MCE, truckers learned what the latest indicators and trends mean for the industry. As with everything trucking: it depends on what you’re hauling and where.

The driver shortage is on the other end of that seesaw cycle: The less trucking worries about the economy, the more it has to worry about driver churn. CCJ coverage of driver issues begins here.

This isn’t to say there was nothing new at MCE. Au contraire.

If the show had an unofficial theme, it was ‘automate.’ The exhibit hall was packed with vendor after vendor, each with a new and better way to measure any and every aspect of trucking operations, compliance and driver behavior. See CCJ tech guru Aaron Huff’s coverage here.

But you can’t kick the tires or see yourself in the chrome of microprocessors and algorithms. Fortunately, there was also a lot of shiny hardware for those of us who think things are indeed changing and that trucking won’t be the same in another generation.

Robo-trucks, anyone?