September 2021

Keeping America moving: Nation salutes truckers in September

America celebrates National Truck Driver Appreciation Week September 12th – 18th. As it should. Relative to all the appreciation “weeks” popping up on social media, given our current circumstances and recent history, this one - especially this year - must truly rise above the level of a virtue-signaling meme. We would be in a world of hurt without our truckers. Everybody needs to remember that --every week of the year.

Celebrate the incredible contribution

Not unlike environmentalists failing to understand that if they eliminated oil, every green technology they deem politically correct would cease to exist. It appears after yet another year of incredible contribution, somehow, trucks and drivers are bad for the country. And though we should be celebrating these heroes and the industry, the nation seems to be vilifying rather than glorifying trucker’s for the peace, health and happiness they deliver every day.

It is absolutely time to celebrate the trucking industry this year, especially after yet another year of literally saving the nation’s bacon and assuring supplies of “every kind” including pharmaceuticals to keep people healthy. As one unidentified wag in the industry said: “Those damn vaccines don’t ship themselves, people!”

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Fifty tons, $53 billion every day

According to a Fleet Owner story recapping the trucking industry’s value and contribution to the US and global economy during 2020, “the trucking industry has proven to be particularly vital to the American economy and way of life.” Quoting a federal government administrator “there is not a family in America or business that doesn’t rely on the freight industry in some way.” Which is truth beyond words.

The story goes on to quote Bob Costello, ATA’s chief economist who reminds us that trucks move nearly three quarters of our nation’s domestic freight by weight. In 2019, that tally was 11.84 billion tons moved by truck in the United States

Despite their incredible contribution and critical role in supporting the logistical needs of the largest single economy on earth, the trucking industry remains under tremendous, existential pressure from certain segments of society, ranging from the plaintiff attorneys’ bar, environmental groups and to the statehouse and back. From trucking insurance minimum liability limits and billion-dollar nuclear verdicts, to union-backed, government powered over reach in California (now before the US Supreme Court) it seems a few folks have some work to do regarding trucker appreciation.

In 2020, per Bob Costello, trucks moved some 72.5% of the nation’s freight by weight. Trucking also delivered $791.7 billion in gross freight revenues, a figure representing 80.4% of the nation’s freight bill in 2019. In addition, noted ATA, trucks moved 11.84 billion tons of freight in 2019, representing more than 72% of total domestic tonnage shipped.

Another challenge for fleets and drivers, explained Fleet Owner, is the fact that nearly three-quarters of the nation’s total domestic tonnage is hauled on deteriorating roads and inadequate infrastructure, which costs drivers and fleets time and money. Regarding that particular contribution to the nation’s general economy, commercial trucks paid $45.7 billion in federal and state highway-user taxes in 2018. Even though commercial trucks make up 13.7% of all registered vehicles, they paid $18 billion in federal highway-user taxes and $27.7 billion in state highway-user taxes in 2018.

That is fully three-quarters of all goods shipped in the country and the industry pays way more in taxes than all other vehicles and drivers on the nation’s roads. Given those statistics, why would any sane person want to constrain the trucking industry in any way?

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Mixed signals not helping attract drivers

About 8 million people were employed in trucking-related jobs in 2019, and notes the ATA, 3.6 million of those were truck drivers. That’s a big number, but not enough to fill demand for drivers or major gaps in truck-driven supply lines.

Still number one on the American Transportation Research Institute’s (ATRI) Top Industry Issues list, the ongoing and to many industry observers, worsening labor shortage still plagues the industry. For the fourth consecutive year, the driver shortage was the top industry issue overall. It’s a chronic problem and the mixed signals society’s sending is not helping attract new people to the profession. Not to diminish the effort but National Truck Driver Appreciation Week has a steep hill to climb. If there was ever an industry in need of a good publicist lately it’s trucking and the driving profession.

Last December Fleet Owner was reporting the driver shortage was expected to worsen this year because among other things pandemic locked down driver training schools and commercial driver license testing sites. Although there’s not much to support that actually happened nine months later, the more likely scenario is that unemployment doles and tax rebates kept many potential “applicants” to the profession on the sidelines.

Understanding truckers unmet needs better

If the industry is ever going to attract the drivers it needs, it’s going to have to get inside their heads a bit better, or at least that seems to be ATRI’s thinking, announcing a call for responses to a new data collection initiative – one designed to better understand the motivating factors for being an owner-operator, independent contractor, or company driver.

Through an online form ATRI is asking drivers to provide input that will measure what job-related factors contributed to becoming an owner-operator, independent contractor, or company driver and whether or not those expectations have been met. According to ATRI, the research will provide timely valuable insight into understanding how drivers could be impacted by legislative and regulatory actions that impact the way in which drivers are classified. The data collection form is available online and drivers are asked to complete the survey by Friday, September 17, 2021.

If you got it, thank a trucker

September is filled with poignant days and more historical milestones than one could care to count, 9/11 chief among them. But all that makes celebrating truck drivers’ contribution even more important this month, more politically correct than ever, and worth supporting every second with real, not signaled virtue. God bless America’s truckers!

Bob Tales