September 2019 The Roemer Report

Truck Drivers: Appreciated, Underappreciated and Depreciated

Every year the American Trucking Associations (ATA) designates the second week in September as National Truck Driver Appreciation Week. This year the industry and the ATA set aside September 8-14, to recognize the nearly 3.5 million professional men and women working today’s roads. All involved are hoping every American will take the time to thank and honor all our great nation’s truck drivers for their commitment and hard work delivering the might of our economy. America’s truck drivers transport hundreds of millions of tons of freight each and every month. Day after day, ton after ton, load after load they see to it that everything we need reaches its destination, securely, safely and on time.

Drivers appreciated

According to ATA stats, truck drivers delivered nearly 11 billion tons of freight in 2018. For those calculating that’s more than 70% of all freight moved in the U.S. from 80% of America’s cities and towns.

There is little doubt that the trucking industry is the backbone of our economy and professional drivers are what makes it tick. “They are committed to the safe delivery of the many things that make our collective quality of life possible,” says the ATA in the press materials it is disseminating. “Their commitment to safety is evident in the consistent improvements in highway safety we have seen over the past decade,” notes the ATA.

In its “Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts 2017,” the FMCSA found that in 2017, 4,889 large trucks and buses were involved in fatal crashes. Although representing a 9% increase from 2016, the number of large trucks and buses in fatal crashes has increased by 42% from its low of 3,432 in 2009, the 2017 number is still 7% lower than the 21st-century peak of 5,231 in 2005. From 2016 to 2017, large truck and bus fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled by all motor vehicles increased by 6.8 percent, from 0.146 to 0.156.

There was a 34-percent decrease in the number of fatal crashes involving large trucks or buses between 2005 and 2009, followed by an increase of 40 percent between 2009 and 2017. The number of injury crashes involving large trucks or buses decreased steadily from 102,000 in 2002 to 60,000 in 2009 (a decline of 41 percent). From 2009 to 2015, injury crashes increased 62 percent to 97,000 (based on GES data).

Pilot Flying J gets in on the fun

Just prior to the designated week one of the country’s top truck-stop operators thought they might get in on the fun – and frankly they should, considering how much business they do with drivers. According to Pilot Flying J, the company has grown from 1.1 billion fuel gallons sold in 1996 to more than 7 billion sold annually today.

That’s a lot to be thankful for (CEO got a BIG raise in 2018) and the company got out in front of the whole affair Initiating it’s “Thank a Driver” Campaign in the days leading up to Truck Driver Appreciation Week.

“Professional drivers deliver the goods that keep our shelves stocked and our country moving,” said Ken Parent, president of Pilot Flying J. “We truly appreciate the hard work and tremendous dedication of these men and women. To professional drivers – a sincere thank you – for your for your commitment to our families, communities and country by safely and efficiently transporting products across the nation.”

Pilot Flying J notes that professional drivers haul more than $10.4 trillion worth of merchandise each year (according to a 2019 ATA trends report), and that the efficient flow and availability of these goods would be significantly impacted if truck traffic were to stop.

The company intends for its campaign to show the importance of professional drivers and is broadcasting a video among other things on social media thanking drivers for their critical role in the nation’s economy.

Drivers underappreciated

Professional truckers deserve the recognition and the acknowledgement of their hard work the industry’s trying to push into the national spotlight with their welcome promotions. All who contribute their brawn and brains to haul stuff in trucks should get at least a few of the 15 minutes of fame don’t you think?

But beyond the celebration of truckers’ efforts and industry, a recent study reveals that in at least one area of the profession the contributions of the men and women driving professionally are being underappreciated by shippers.

Driver’s time being devalued?

Reporting on a new American Trucking Research Institute (ATRI) study on detention times, FreightWave’s headline was stark: “Detention time rising as drivers wait longer to load and unload,” But the sub-headline was even more of a surprise: “Non-assertive women driving refrigerated trucks encounter bigger delays.”

Woah, where did that come from? Apparently, notes FreightWaves’s reporter, “the waits to load and unload freight continue to vex truckers, especially women drivers less likely to complain about being kept waiting, according to new survey data from the American Transportation Research Institute.”

Citing the ATRI report, FreightWaves explains that both the length and frequency of detention — the average number of minutes a truck spends waiting inside a shipper or receiver’s location for unloading and loading — has grown over the last four years. The ATRI’s analysis was based on more than 1,900 driver and motor carrier surveys conducted in 2014 and 2018.

Delays of two or more hours increased 11.2% between 2014 and 2018, with delays of six or more hours rising 27.4%.

Nearly 40% of drivers who completed surveys at major trucking shows in Louisville, KY, and Dallas in 2018 reported that seven of 10 of their pickups and deliveries were delayed by customer actions over the past 12 months. FreightWaves says its SONAR data shows trucking wait times averaging 131 minutes – just over two hours — nationally so far in September. That sort of behavior, it seems, serves to de-value truck driver’s time and it’s certainly not appreciated by drivers.

Drivers depreciated

Another trend vexing trucking and truckers is the advent of technologies that might possibly push the driver out of the cab forever. In a somewhat ironic twist of fate most all the things wrong with truck drivers (when you boil it all down) have to do with the fact that they are humans. These traits make the labor of drivers expensive. It’s tough to find low commercial truck insurance rates for drivers that have poor accident records for instance. Will there come a time when drivers are just (literally) so much equipment, a capital expense to be depreciated over time? Let’s hope that dystopia plays itself out in some other universe; for now, thank a trucker for delivering the universe you’re in right now.