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Top 4 Takeaways from ATRI’s 2020 Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry Report

For the last several years, the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) has released a yearly report on the top critical issues facing the trucking industry. 

The annual report is based on ATRI’s robust survey methodology, a culmination of responses from truck drivers, motor carriers and other stakeholders. Each respondent ranks their top three concerns from a list of topics as well as their top three preferred strategies to address each issue. 

In late October, ATRI released the 2020 edition of its annual report - based on a record amount of 3,122 total responses. While it’s no secret that 2020 was a year full of unique challenges and issues, there are some key findings from the 2020 ATRI report that stand out, including:


1. Driver-Centric Topics Remain at the Forefront

For the fourth year in a row, the issue of the driver shortage took the top spot in the report. While the COVID-19 pandemic impacted freight demand earlier in 2020, ATRI notes that it is returning to pre-COVID levels and early indications are that the driver shortage will return to levels experienced in both 2018 and 2019. What’s more, ATRI notes that more than 27 percent of drivers are over the age of 55.

How should the industry address the driver shortage? Survey respondents’ top choices to eliminate this shortage included advocating the federal government to develop a driver apprenticeship program to recruit younger drivers, as well as finding ways to recruit more women and minorities into professional truck driving. Respondents also noted the need for an  easier means of obtaining a commercial permit or license, particularly in the wake of COVID-19 forcing the closure or reduced capacity of state-run licensing facilities.

Another key driver-centric topic that also could impact the driver shortage is driver compensation, which came in at number two in the survey. While driver pay has increased over the past few years, ATRI notes that many drivers felt the issue of driver shortage and compensation were directly linked to one another. 


2. Safety, Compliance and Insurance Issues Come Into Focus

The 2020 edition of ATRI’s report also saw the topic of safety and compliance reemerge as a critical issue. After falling out of the top five in 2016, the topic of Compliance, Safety and Accountability (CSA) was placed at number four in the 2020 report.

Survey respondents supported the idea of working more closely with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to update its carrier prioritization methodology as well as encourage the FMCSA to improve and expand the Crash Preventability Determination Program.



In addition to CSA-related concerns, respondents also put insurance costs and availability back into the top ten of issues at number five. According to the American Trucking Associations (ATA), insurance costs per mile have risen more than 18 percent in the past several years. While the industry continues to discuss how to address these rising rates, fleets are increasingly turning to technology to mitigate higher insurance premiums.


3. Hours of Service Drops Post-ELD Mandate

Around November 2019, the impending enforcement of the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate put the topic of Hours of Service (HOS) at the forefront of top industry concerns. 

We are over one year into the enforcement of the ELD mandate and while it continues to be a change fleets must navigate, concerns around HOS have decreased enough that ATRI ranked it at number 10 in this year’s report.

What’s driving this drop in ranking for HOS? One cause might be that fleets aren’t having to migrate from Automatic Onboard Recording Devices (AOBRDs) to ELDs, something many were doing in 2019. ATRI also cites the recent HOS final rule implemented by the FMCSA in June 2020 as helping make this a less pressing issue than it was in 2019. ATRI notes that this final rule contained many changes sought by the industry, including the short-haul exception, the adverse driving conditions exception, the 30-minute rest break and the sleeper berth provision.


4. New Topics and Issues Emerge

As mentioned above, 2020 was a year unlike any other and while many of the industry issues in the 2020 report have been regular concerns, the report also cited some new topics that were discussed by survey respondents.

These “emerging issues” are those that ATRI notes as important but fall just outside of the top 10. In this year’s report, these include driver distraction, transportation infrastructure, congestion and funding and, perhaps not surprisingly, COVID-19. 

ATRI’s report made it clear that COVID-19 impacted all parts of the supply chain but has been particularly hard on smaller fleets. ATRI’s research found that nearly 80 percent of small fleets and owner-operators did not have an emergency response plan in place for managing operations in the event of a pandemic or natural disaster.


Technology’s Role in Navigating a Wide Range of Industry Concerns

The valuable insights gleaned from ATRI’s annual report show a host of issues that are facing the trucking industry. While the industry’s stakeholders work to address these concerns, having the right transportation technology in place can also be crucial in helping your fleet mitigate the impact these issues have on your performance.

Each day, Trimble helps fleets just like yours utilize a wide range of fleet mobility solutions to help them increase safety and productivity. Whether you have solutions in place now or don’t know where to begin, we can help you optimize your fleet’s use of technological advances. 

Check out our free eBook on upgrading your in-cab equipment to help you find new ways to address top industry issues, both today and in the months and years ahead.