In an effort to help motor carriers abide by hours-of-service regulations, which dictate how long commercial drivers can operate their big rigs without rest, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has handed down a rule requiring fleets to both install and abide by electronic logging devices. The FMCSA believes ELDs will result in $1 billion in savings for the sector, but industry veterans can’t help but wonder how the technology will affect production over the long haul, a newly released survey suggests.

“The electronic logging device mandate goes into effect in December 2017.”

In a poll conducted by the American Transportation Research Institute, nearly two-thirds of respondents said fallout from ELDs was their chief concern out of all the issues currently facing the trucking profession. The rule goes into effect for some starting in December 2017. More specifically, a strong majority wondered if compliance would result in reduced productivity, as time management is critical with services in high demand and the supply of truckers limited.

HOS rule remains a sticking point
Unlike other industries where demand is low, business generation isn’t an issue for trucking. If anything, motor carriers are constantly making decisions about how to allocate resources to best serve the consumer public as well as businesses. This is part of the reason why the hours-of-service rule is also among the top concerns voiced by professionals, the ATRI survey found. It prevents drivers from operating their vehicles for lengthy periods. Rounding out the top three was the cumulative impact trucking regulations would have on the sector.

Pat Thomas, American Trucking Associations chairman, indicated that the annual survey serves as a microcosm of what he’s observed in his dealings with fellow commercial motorists and colleagues.

“The ever-increasing regulatory burdens placed on the industry, coupled with the sluggish economy, are creating challenges for trucking as we work hard to keep America moving forward,” Thomas explained.

Chris Spear, president and CEO of the ATA, added that the annual poll provides the glimpse executives need to address the issues that are facing truckers today and what they can do to fix them.

Other sources of anxiety for commercial motorists, the ATRI poll discovered, were the shortage of parking availability and the U.S. economy, which has yet to fully recover. Over the past eight years, for instance, gross domestic product hasn’t grown by 4 percent or more per quarter on an annual basis.

The ELD mandate may not be as worrisome were it not for the industry’s dearth of qualified drivers. With the holiday season approaching, a time when delivery requests typically peak, approximately 73,000 additional long-distance drivers are needed to satisfy demand.

Bob Costello, ATA’s chief economist, told the Washington Examiner that the truck driver deficit will almost certainly have a ripple effect.

“It’s at a point today where it is an operational hardship,” Costello explained. “It could soon be that at your store, not everything is there that you are accustomed to being there. This is an industry that has problems finding drivers.”

175,000 shortfall by 2024?
The driver shortage has ballooned significantly over the past decade. In 2005, for instance, the industry had a shortfall of approximately 21,000 commercial drivers. If application volume doesn’t pick up, the trucking industry’s largest trade association believes the shortage may reach 175,000 within eight years.

ATA’s chief economist noted that motor carriers are having trouble finding qualified candidates, as a number of the applicants companies receive are from individuals who don’t have experience or lack their commercial driver’s license.

“Autonomous big rigs may be the solution to the trucking industry’s challenges.”

Many believe that the implementation of autonomous trucks is only a matter of time and may help solve the driver shortage. Supporters say self-driving big rigs will both reduce the rate at which accidents occur and relieve the inventory backlogs brought on by the dearth of experienced drivers.

Transportation industry piece brought to you by Marlin Equipment Finance, a nationwide provider of commercial lending solutions for small and mid-size businesses. Marlin’s equipment financing and loan products are offered directly to businesses, and through third party vendor programs, which include manufacturers, distributors, independent dealers and brokers in the security, food services, healthcare, information technology, office technology and telecommunications sectors.