Trucking is a busy industry – much busier than usual. And it isn’t just because the busiest shopping season of the year is approaching fast. It’s because changes are coming, too.
As America’s preferred method of freight transportation, trucks move the vast majority of America’s freight. And the industry as a whole is currently undergoing several massive changes, many of them supported by the American Trucking Associations (ATA).
ATA is trucking’s biggest lobbying group. Their chief executive, Chris Spear, is currently pushing initiatives to get more drivers on the road, get those roads fixed, and usher in new safety technology to help the industry become more productive overall.
ATA officials have outlined the most pressing issues in the industry today, and the ongoing driver shortage is at the top of the list. A program to allow teenagers to work in trucking apprenticeships is currently being discussed, and Spear says it is an idea that has already shown feasibility.
He said: “I can’t think of a better example for our industry when we talk about allowing 18- to 21-year-olds behind the wheel of heavy-duty trucks. You already have 48 states legally allowing an 18-year-old to drive. They just can’t cross state lines. That works pretty well in Texas and California, but not so great in Rhode Island or Connecticut.”
With trucking’s older-than-average workforce nearing retirement, bringing in new talent is important. But it is also important for them to target young people – namely those who may have otherwise been college-bound had they not been open to prospective truck driving opportunities right after high school.
Productivity is also an important matter. A capacity crunch means truckers have less space than their customers need, thus causing a raise in prices. Changing productivity laws and equipment configurations could be vital to making trucking an even more productive industry. Such changes will make current demand easier to meet and prepare drivers for the future of the industry.
But another issue lies in the way – infrastructure. Crumbling roads and bridges have led to a lot of concerns for truck drivers, and have caused carriers to lose out on a lot of revenue. There have been tentative plans discussed to make upgrades, but this is still in the discussion phase right now.
Something that will go hand in hand with infrastructure upgrades is upgrades to safety technology. There have been a lot of talks about using autonomous trucking technology to help ease the driver shortage, but this would rely on having the appropriate infrastructure.
Finally, tariffs are another factor that has the industry concerned. International shipping is largely dependent on trade policy. Instabilities in this area of the economy don’t bode well for trucking. But there are enough positive economic signs nationally to help quell international fears for now.
As the industry moves toward the busiest season of the year, it will be interesting to see whether these issues will be addressed correctly. For trucking to truly have a great year-end, the capacity crunch will have to be mitigated.