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October 27, 2012

The Trucking Industry's Top Concerns 2012

The release of trucking’s top 10 issues by the research arm of the American Trucking Associations (ATA) shows the state of the economy is still a concern, but the new #1 is the Compliance, Safety and Accountability motor carrier safety-rating program of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (CSA). Particularly, carriers want a review of the accuracy, reliability and significance of CSA scores, in light of testimony that the system does not accurately rate carrier performance.

The state of the economy has been the top concern for the last three years, featuring in second place in 2008 as the current economic situation loomed. It now drops to third place behind the perennial concern with changes to hours of service and their full impact on carrier operations going forward.

The poll, conducted by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), is conducted over 4,000 industry executives with this year’s results released at the ATA’s Management Conference and Exhibition which closed recently (October 11, 2012).
The approaching crisis of driver recruitment has many concerned, too. Always in the Top 10, the issue dropped several places over the last few years as fleets downsized capacity for the shrinking freight market. However, with the hoped-for return to better times on the horizon, finding drivers is reckoned to be a massive problem. The weak, but positive growth in GDP was highlighted in the “All Eyes on the Economy” panel session during the ATA annual conference.

Driver retention has been another ongoing issue, but not broken out in past reviews here. New for this year, though, is that driver health and wellness is now on the chart, showing concern with acquiring drivers, retaining them and improving their lifestyle all rank in the Top 10.

A number of issues have fallen out of the ranking. Infrastructure concerns, both the crumbling Interstates and bridges and the methods of generating revenue to deal with the problems, come in at number 11 this year, just off the chart.

Tort reform and legal issues has also disappeared again after a brief resurgence last year.

On-board technology and size and weight had come on the radar in the last few years but dropped off again this time around. Conspicuously absent in the latest rankings are regulatory concerns of ever more strict mandates on the industry, and environmental concerns. Both have figured to a greater or lesser extent over the years.

The slide presentation here shows the ATRI Top 10 issues for the trucking industry for 2005 through the latest 2012 listing just released. First is the complete matrix and is a little hard to read and extract trends. So I’ve broken out the issues one by one on the subsequent slides. The order is based on that most recently reported. And if you page through all, you will see the odd instance of a “dead end” like the insurance issue in 2005. This came up because of a blip in the truck insurance business the previous year that saw an almost total abandonment of trucking by the insurers at that time.

With the individual issues broken out, it is very easy to see the impact of outside influences like fuel price, the general economy, and the evolution of technology. All in all, it makes for an interesting series of snapshots of what grabs the industry’s attention at the moment. And it also shows those issues that endure.