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ATRI’s Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry: 4 Things You Need to Know About the 2021 Report

As 2021 has come to a close, now is the time to examine some of the biggest issues facing the trucking industry, both today and in anticipation of the years ahead. 

Some are a reflection of the current state of the world ‒ things like COVID-19 vaccine logistics and supply chain shortages. Others ‒ think the driver shortage and retention ‒ are more ongoing and less unique to a particular moment in time.

In October 2021, the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) examined these issues in further detail with the release of the 17th edition of its “Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry” report. Based on survey responses from truck drivers, motor carriers and other stakeholders, this annual resource examines and prioritizes the most critical industry concerns as well as potential strategies to address each one.

We took a look at the 2021 report and here are four key takeaways to keep in mind, regardless of where you fall in the transportation supply chain:

1. The Driver Shortage Remains the Top Issue

For the fifth year in a row, the industry’s driver shortage sat atop the list of most pressing issues. In fact, the driver shortage received more than four times as many first-place votes as the next issue on the list.

With a current shortage of 80,000 drivers, that figure is projected to rise to 160,000 drivers by the end of 2030. ATRI cites a host of different factors behind this, including increasing freight demand, an aging driver population, drivers who left the industry due to COVID-19 and logistical challenges in getting new drivers trained and properly licensed.

So, how do you solve a problem like the driver shortage? ATRI’s report outlined three potential strategies to combat it. The first is to advocate for the expedited launch of the DRIVE Safe Act pilot program, which would expand the eligibility for interstate commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs) to 18-20 year olds, lower than the current age minimum of 21 years.

Survey respondents also indicated the need to develop outreach programs aimed at high school students and young adults to explain the benefits of trucking careers as well as advocacy for the expansion of the EB-3 Permanent Work Authorization permit to expand eligibility for potential drivers. This employer-sponsored permit is for “skilled, professional, or other workers” and allows individuals to reside permanently in the United States under certain conditions.

2. Other Driver-Centric Issues Stay Top of Mind

While the driver shortage was noted as the top issue, other driver-focused topics were prominent in the 2021 report, too. This includes driver retention, which ranked #2, up four spots from its place in the 2020 report.

With a driver turnover rate of 92 percent for large truckload fleets at the end of 2020, the report’s respondents noted a few proposed strategies to reduce this number. They include researching successful retention strategies, exploring the connection between technology such as advanced safety systems and overall driver satisfaction and retention and evaluating the effect of providing drivers with benefits such as health insurance and retirement plans.

Speaking of employee benefits, driver compensation came in as the #3 issue for 2021. Respondents’ preferred strategies to address the topic of driver pay include analyzing how driver pay compares to jobs in competing sectors, analyzing the success of carrier programs that financially incentivize drivers based on performance and better quantifying how driver compensation directly influences overall satisfaction and productivity.

3. Lawsuit Abuse Reform Emerges as Big Issue

The threat of nuclear verdicts from accident-related litigation has become an increasingly hot topic for carriers of all shapes and sizes. ATRI’s survey data reflects this trend, with the issue of lawsuit abuse reform moving up three spots to #4 in the 2021 report.

According to survey respondents, solving the problem of lawsuit abuse should be centered on advocacy and education. Proposed strategies include advocating for the elimination of “phantom” damages, which reflect a gap between the plaintiff’s billed medical costs and paid medical costs. In addition, respondents called for congressional advocacy to allow motor carrier defendants to federal courts, which ATRI identified as a “favorable litigation practice” that can potentially prevent lawsuit abuse.

A third strategy to fight lawsuit abuse is through carrier and law enforcement education, specifically as it relates to identifying staged accidents. Respondents voiced their support to more aggressively prosecute defendants in cases like this, citing a federal investigation named “Operation Sideswipe” that is centered on examining a series of staged accidents with carriers.

4. A New Issue Comes into Focus: The Diesel Tech Shortage

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there will be more than 28,000 projected openings for diesel service technicians in the next decade. With this employment gap in mind, ATRI survey respondents listed the diesel technician shortage as a top-10 issue for the first time.

To help reduce this figure, respondents listed a wide range of potential strategies to encourage prospective technicians to join the workforce. Respondents noted the need for collaboration between carriers and trade schools to promote training and job placement, as well as the prospect of working with the U.S. Department of Labor Veterans’ Employment Training Service to actively recruit military veterans to the profession.

Stay Ahead of Industry Trends with the Right Technology

Whether it is to address issues related to your drivers, technicians or other aspects of your business, having the right technology in place can play a crucial role in helping you maximize efficiencies and performance.

At Trimble, we are here to help. Connect with us today to discover how our wide range of transportation solutions can help you keep pace with industry trends and position yourself for continued success in the years ahead.