This year the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) is celebrating 20 years since its reorganization. Over the last two decades ATRI’s research has helped the industry navigate driver and safety concerns, regulations, new technologies, and more.
ATRI’s origins began in the 1950s as the American Trucking Associations Foundation. Trucking industry suppliers started the foundation to populate an industry image campaign and spread the word about the importance of trucking. Over time, however, it became clear that data and research were critical to effectively spreading that message, noted Rebecca Brewster, ATRI president and COO. Brewster has been with the organization since 1993.
In the late 1990s, the ATA Foundation morphed into more of an industry research organization when then-chairman Mike Wickman, the late CEO of Roadway Express, revisited the foundation’s purpose. Wickman pulled together an industry group of CEOs and asked, “If there were no ATA Foundation, would you create one, and what would it look like?” ATRI is the result of those deliberations, Brewster said.
Today, the nonprofit is most known for its Research Advisory Committee (RAC), an external body of industry stakeholders made up of fleets, suppliers, academia, law enforcement, driver groups, and government.
RAC reviews some 30 proposals every year that have been developed by members and submitted by outside parties. That’s how ATRI comes up with a vote of its annual top priorities list.
“As ATRI, we really have the industry’s input on what research we should be doing to answer the industry’s most pressing questions,” Brewster said. “There are several bodies of work that are really impactful, and I am proud of everything that we’ve done.”
ATRI has researched topics like professional driver issues, environmental impacts, nuclear verdicts, safety, traffic bottlenecks, operational issues, and much more. Although Brewster is proud of all ATRI’s accomplishments over the years, she is particularly proud of the work the organization has done regarding hours of service.
“The rules were changing constantly, so we felt like we had to continuously update our research to understand the impacts of those changes on the industry,” she said. “In particular, I think about the time when we had the rules that required the two overnight periods for the 34-hour restart. Through our analysis and data collection, we showed that it was not necessarily delivering on its promise to provide drivers rest because it was creating additional stressful situations for drivers.”
In 2005, ATRI released its first Crash Predictor Model, where researchers analyzed more than 400,000 individual driver records to identify the behaviors that are most predictive of a future crash. ATRI has subsequently updated the model several times and is in the process of working on a new update.
Brewster’s personal favorite project is ATRI’s Top Industry Issues survey. Referring to the survey as a “great marker” for industry concerns, Brewster said people have come to expect the annual report and download it in droves from ATRI’s website.
The same holds true for ATRI’s Top Truck Bottlenecks list, Brewster added.
“I think that through those annual reports, we’ve really built an audience of people who are eagerly awaiting ATRI’s releases so that when we come out with new studies that are first-time or one-time shots, we have a ready audience because they know and appreciate the value of ATRI’s research and the transparency that we bring to our methodology,” Brewster said. “I think that’s another strong piece of our recipe here: We are very transparent with where the data generates from, how we do the analysis, and we go to great lengths in all of our studies to explain our methodology.”
Sitting around the ATRI research table are truckload carriers, less-than-truckload carriers, tanker and bulk haulers, for-hire and private fleets large and small, and law enforcement officers.
“It’s always great to get law enforcement’s reaction to these proposals and how they value them,” Brewster said. “Obviously, when we have discussions around our priority topic on marijuana decriminalization and roadway safety, our law enforcement officer was from Colorado and had very strong opinions at the time on that research and how important it would be for the industry. That became one of our priorities this year.”
In addition to a diverse group of industry stakeholders, ATRI has a wide mix of research skills and backgrounds on its staff.
“I think it’s really going to benefit and underscore the success of our research going forward,” Brewster noted. “I feel very fortunate to be in the position we are. I appreciate that the industry appreciates us and has continued to contribute charitable contributions to support our research, to continue to provide data when we put out a call, and to continue to encourage drivers to participate in our data collection.”