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ATRI: Fuel prices, parking are trucking industry’s biggest concerns

Oct. 24, 2022
The rising price of diesel was enough to knock the driver shortage from the top of ATRI’s annual report on trucking industry worries. Fleets’ top concerns were about finding and keeping drivers. Drivers are concerned about parking and pay.

SAN DIEGO—With diesel costs setting record highs over the past year, fuel prices were the top concern of trucking industry leaders and drivers who participated in the American Transportation Research Institute’s 18th annual Top Industry Issues report.

The report’s top 10 issues for carriers and drivers were unveiled during the opening day of American Trucking Associations’ Management Conference and Exhibit here. Along with fuel prices, the driver shortage, truck parking, driver pay, and the economy were on the list. Speed limiters—the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration filed a notice of intent to begin speed limiter rulemaking in 2023—debuted at No. 9 on the list. 

“Drivers are particularly concerned about the topic—it’s been on the driver list for a number of years—but this is the first time it cracked through to the top 10,” ATRI President and COO Rebecca Brewster said after she unveiled the list to a packed room of trucking industry stakeholders who are in San Diego this week for the ATA conference. 

That was one of two surprises on this year’s list, Brewster said. “The other one is—after five years of being the No. 1 issue on the survey—the driver shortage was No. 2 this year, toppled by fuel prices.”

Dennis Dellinger, president and CEO of Cargo Transporters, said the list is a good way to understand what drivers want. 

“You’ve got to listen to what the drivers are saying because the drivers are the backbone of our company—they’re the backbone of the nation right now,” he told FleetOwner. “We’ve got to listen to them and take action to make sure there’s not a disconnect between our drivers and management and leadership in the trucking industry.”

Top 10 trucking industry concerns of 2022

The annual ATRI report looks at the industry as a whole and also segments into carrier and driver concerns. Here is a look at the overall top 10 trucking industry concerns of 2022 and the top concerns of drivers and carriers. 

1. Fuel Prices

Fuel prices moved ahead of the driver shortage to become the No. 1 trucking industry concern in the 2022 ATRI survey. The last time fuel costs made the top 10 was in 2013 when it ranked eighth, but record-high diesel prices this year left fleets of all sizes scrambling to identify ways to cut costs, according to the research institute. 

2. Driver shortage

For five years in a row, the driver shortage was the top concern on ATRI’s list. This year, it dropped one spot to No. 2. According to ATA, the industry’s current shortage of more than 80,000 truck drivers could double by 2030. The factors contributing to the shortage, cited by ATRI, are a retiring driver workforce, the challenging lifestyle, and regulatory pressures leading some drivers to leave the industry. 

3. Truck parking

The lack of truck parking has been a top-five issue in ATRI survey since 2015. This year it ranks No. 3. Drivers ranked it No. 1 on their list for the third straight year. Poor parking options is tied to driver recruitment and retention issues—as well as efforts to attract more women to the profession, according to ATRI.

4. Driver compensation

After debuting on the top 10 list at No. 3 in 2019, driver compensation has remained in the top five. Driven by post-pandemic freight demand and the growing driver shortage, fleets have increasingly turned to pay increases as a way to recruit and retain the best drivers, according to ATRI. Data from the research group’s 2022 Operational Costs of Trucking research showed that driver wages increased 9.8% over the previous year, with the driver wage figure ($0.809 per mile) achieving a record high since the operational costs research first launched in 2008.

5. Economy

In the midst of the Great Recession, fuel costs and the economy were the top two industry concerns in the 2008 ATRI list. The economy continued as the No. 1 concern for three more years before dropping in subsequent rankings and eventually falling out of the top 10 in 2017. In 2022, with skyrocketing inflation, equipment, and parts shortages, record-high diesel prices, and continued wage pressures, the economy is back as the No. 5 industry concern. After peaking at 9.1% in June, inflation is down slightly to 8.2% percent as of Sept. 26 but concerns about a global recession persist, ATRI notes.

6. Detention/delay at customer facilities

This is the fourth year detention/delay at customer facilities is in ATRI’s top 10. It moved up one spot to the No. 6 concern overall. Like many of the issues on the Top 10 list, detention/delay intersects with many other issues, ATRI notes. It is challenging to recruit and retain truck drivers when they know that detention will reduce their pay due to lost hours spent waiting at customer facilities. Often truck drivers do not have access to important amenities such as drinking water or restrooms. They may expect safe parking at the customer’s facility due to the delay, only to be told to leave and look for parking elsewhere, according to researchers. 

7. Driver retention

Driver retention ranked seventh this year, dropping from the No. 2 industry concern in 2021. “Many in the industry believe that the driver shortage, driver compensation, and driver retention are all inextricably linked and therefore challenging to separate into individual rankings,” according to ATRI researchers, who noted they are kept separate because the strategies for addressing each are distinct. In ATRI’s 2022 Operational Costs of Trucking research, while average annual starting bonuses were up 26% over four years, retention bonuses were up 57% over the same time period, showing fleets’ increased focus on retaining their best drivers.

8. Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) 

FMCSA’s safety measurement system, Compliance, Safety, Accountability, is a perennial top 10 concern in the trucking industry. It ranked No. 8 this year. The 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, known as the FAST Act, included a requirement for a National Academies’ review of CSA, which was issued in 2017 and included recommendations for improving CSA scoring to better reflect a carrier’s risk profile. But five years later, FMCSA has yet to implement the recommended Item Response Theory (IRT) approach—and carrier frustration with how their safety performance is evaluated by CSA persists, ATRI notes.

9. Speed Limiters

Earlier this year, FMCSA issued a Notice of Intent (NOI) to move forward with a speed limiter rulemaking in 2023. The Federal Register notice garnered more than 14,500 comments and led to speed limiters’ appearance on the top 10 list. Speed limiters have been an issue on the drivers’ list of top concerns for several years now and in this year’s survey, drivers ranked speed limiters as No. 5., with more than one out of every five driver respondents ranking it as a top concern. 

10. Lawsuit abuse reform

For the third year in a row, lawsuit abuse reform (previously listed as “tort reform”) remained in the top 10—but it dropped six places this year to No. 10. ATRI research has quantified the negative impact of excessive litigation on the industry’s insurance costs. This year motor carrier respondents ranked lawsuit abuse reform and insurance cost/availability as Nos. 6 and 7, respectively. 

How motor carriers and drivers differ on issues      

Nearly half (47%) of survey respondents were professional truck drivers and 39% were motor carrier executives. Among driver respondents, truck parking, fuel prices, and driver compensation were the top three concerns, while motor carriers ranked the driver shortage, driver retention, and fuel prices as their top three concerns.

“When you look at the contrasting two lists—motor carriers and drivers—routinely motor carriers rank the shortage and retention as their top two concerns,” Brewster noted. “And I always say if your top two concerns are finding and keeping the best drivers, then you need to find what drivers say concerns them most. And this year, that’s truck parking.”

Here is a breakdown of how these two parts of the trucking industry rank their top concerns:

Motor Carriers’ top 10 issues of 2022

  1. Driver shortage
  2. Driver retention
    1. Fuel prices
      1. CSA
        1. Economy
          1. Lawsuit abuse reform
            1. Insurance cost/availability
              1. Diesel technician shortage
                1. Detention/delay at customer facilities
                  1. Truck parking

                    Commercial drivers’ top 10 issues of 2022

                    1. Truck parking
                    2. Fuel prices
                      1. Driver compensation
                        1. Detention/delay at customer facilities
                          1. Speed limiters
                            1. Economy
                              1. HOS rules
                                1. ELD mandate
                                  1. Driver training standards
                                    1. Transportation infrastructure/congestion/funding

                                    More than 4,200 trucking industry stakeholders participated in this year’s survey, including motor carriers, truck drivers, industry suppliers, driver trainers, law enforcement, and others. 

                                     “This year’s survey had the highest number of responses to date, showing how committed our industry is to identifying the most critical concerns and, more importantly, figuring out how we collectively deal with each issue,” Brewster said.

                                    The complete results of the annual survey were released as part of the 2022 American Trucking Associations’ Management Conference & Exhibition. The full report can be found at ATRI’s website.

                                    This article originally appeared on FleetOwner