Combined, these issues led to around 640 trucking companies filing for bankruptcy in the first half of 2019 alone. The year ended on a somber note, with heavy-hitter Celadon closing its doors as the biggest bankruptcy in trucking history.
Here are five trends to watch for in 2020.
1. Fluctuating Diesel Prices
January 1 brought the official commencement of IMO 2020 and the prediction for a potential hike in diesel fuel costs. The rise in prices in January was short-lived however, due in part to a slowing economy, a mild winter, and the effects of the Coronavirus.
What is IMO 2020? It’s the International Maritime Organization’s new ship regulation requiring vessels to use lower-sulfur bunkering fuel. Sulfur has proven to have adverse health and environmental effects, so reducing the amount emitted has been a goal for years. Before 2020, ships were allowed up to 3.5 percent sulfur in their fuel, but that number has now dropped to just .5 percent.
How does maritime fuel law have any bearing on the truck industry? A lot of trucking operations already use low-sulfur diesel, meaning they could be in competition with maritime vessels for fuel supply.
2. Efforts to Improve Driver Safety
The trucking industry has struggled to find drivers for years, and the lack of veteran drivers has led, in part, to a slow but steady rise in crashes. With even more experienced truckers set to retire, those vacancies need to be filled by careful, competent drivers to keep the roads safe.
Government regulation is seeking to increase safety in two different ways:
The first has been around for years: Hours of Service Regulation (HOS). In short, HOS regulate the number of hours a driver can spend behind the wheel, and in what circumstances. Currently, a trucker can drive 11 to 14 hours at a time, provided they’ve been off duty for 10 consecutive hours before that. Expect those rules to change in 2020 due to the updated regulation.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is still deciding on the final changes, but here are some of the common-sense suggestions designed to work in real-world situations:
- Drivers could be allowed to drive an extra two hours in order to avoid adverse conditions.
- Drivers could be able to “pause” their on-duty time to plan around heavy traffic or bad weather.
- Drivers could be allowed to sleep for two periods of seven hours instead of one period of ten.
The second change to safety regulations is a program called the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, which is an online database of Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) drivers. Effective January 2020, the Clearinghouse database records any drug or alcohol violations a driver may have committed. This change combined with the FMCSA requirements for random drug testing are intended for road safety and the well-being of all drivers.
3. Driver Shortage and Driver Diversity
The trucking industry has seen a driver shortage for years. Truckers are older on average than other workers, with the median driver age being 46 instead of 41 for other industries, so more and more drivers will be looking to retire in the coming years. With driver shortage already around 50,000, don’t expect to see this need met anytime soon.
On the bright side, the availability of job openings could bring in a younger, more diverse workforce. The numbers show women and Hispanic workers under age 35 are starting to join the trucking industry, along with Millennials and Generation Z. This new workforce is likely to be more technologically savvy than in years past and more willing to embrace new ideas—good news for an industry looking to keep up with the times.
4. An Increase in Technology
New technology is certain to play a role in the trucking industry over the coming months and years. Keeping up with the steady demand of the American consumer has always been a challenge for many industries, but with driver shortages and a healthy economy, it’s becoming more and more necessary to rely on technology to meet that demand.
For drivers, the everyday help from weather predictions and traffic alerts can make a huge difference, allowing them to plan for adverse conditions and adapt accordingly. If the FMCSA allows drivers to pause their driving times, these technological aids will be of even more use, saving shipping time and lowering the risk of crashes.
Using artificial intelligence and augmented reality to assist with inventory management helps lower cost, save time, and reduce errors. Analysis of collected data helps shipping companies predict the future, giving them time to adapt to whatever changes are on the horizon such as increases in consumer parcel delivery driven by a spike in e-commerce volume. In fact, some 93 percent of shippers believe that data-driven decisions are vital to the success of their supply chain activities.
Talk of autonomous truck driving is in the air, too. Because of the potential for profit, self-driving truck technology could develop much faster than regular autonomous cars, especially if it starts out as an aid to drivers. There are multiple companies working toward that goal, with ramped up global technology production starting perhaps as soon as 2025.
5. A Better Year than 2019?
Despite new hurdles such as the Coronavirus and the resulting economic downturn, 2020 may be a better year – especially for big carriers. After so many bankruptcies in 2019, truck manufacturers are likely to be cautious and avoid over-building, declining to sell trucks to risky clients just to move inventory. Banks will also think twice before underwriting facilities.
Believe it or not, these are good opportunities for the trucking industry.
These trends will help keep high-risk shipping companies such as those with a questionable safety history out of the industry meaning an increase in business for stable carriers. Rates should go up—and stay up—for companies that weather the storm.
Cyclical but Stable
The trucking industry has long been seen as cyclical—it goes up and down constantly, but never seems to settle. Veterans of the industry—like Dixon—understand that and recognize the complications that have accompanied transport for years.
We’re in it for the long haul.
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Dixon, founded in 1916, is a premier manufacturer and supplier of hose couplings, valves, dry-disconnects, swivels, and other fluid transfer and control products. Our global reach includes a wide range of products for numerous industries including petroleum exploration, refining, transportation, chemical processing, food & beverage, steel, fire ...