by Ashley Wilks
With the New Year upon us and a busy year in trucking behind, let’s take a brief journey back into the headlines that dominated 2017.
Electronic Logging Device Mandate
The biggest trucking story of the year was the ELD mandate. With many drivers vehemently opposed and the implementation date set for December 18, a tooth and nail fight took place to knock this regulation down. The Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association went to court multiple times, ultimately looking to the Supreme Court to hear the case against an ELD mandate. The Supreme Court ultimately refused to hear the case.
There was a glimmer of hope for the anti-ELD crowd when Donald Trump was elected President. He promised an end to regulations that he believed put a stranglehold on businesses. As the deadline to install loomed, an attempts to stall the mandate were made by Representative Brian Babin (Texas), but was voted down by the House of Representatives.
The ELD mandate survived, though livestock haulers and others in the agricultural field were given more time to comply, and the FMCSA announced that ELD violations would not begin affecting a carrier’s CSA score until April 2018.
The new Administration did have impact on other trucking regulations. A proposed speed limiter rule that would require trucks to install a device that would set a maximum speed of 60 mph, 65 mph or 68 mph was shut down. Another recommended rule regarding testing overweight/obese drivers for sleep apnea was also dropped.
In 2016, a couple of dramatic demonstrations of autonomous trucks running smoothly on course led to dropped jaws and concerned talk about what this could all mean for drivers. In 2017, self-driving trucks started making actual deliveries. Smart refrigerators were loaded onto Embark autonomous trucks and transported from Texas to California (a driver was onboard, just in case.)
Though these were test runs, they show a glimpse of the future. Tesla unveiled its semi-autonomous electric big rig in November with much ballyhoo, but new companies like Otto, Starsky Robotics, Uber and Waymo are plugging away to get their own autonomous trucks in action. The big truck manufacturers, such as Volvo, Peterbilt and Daimler also have tests underway for these self-driving rigs.
Once shrugged off as unrealistic or too far in the future to worry about, autonomous trucks now feel strikingly real. When the American Transportation Research Institute released its 2017 survey of fleet owners and drivers, Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry, autonomous vehicles made its debut as an “emerging issue.”
Uber for Trucking (Really)
Back when everyone talked about Uber as the amazing ride-sharing service they couldn’t live without, just about every type of business came up with a gig economy take on their service and called it the “Uber of ……” food delivery, massage, dry cleaning and so on. Of course new apps popped up promising to be the Uber of Trucking.
In 2017, the actual Uber launched Uber Freight, an app that matched carriers with shippers. But soon after its debut, the reaction was less than enthusiastic. Rather than disrupting the industry, Uber Freight seemed to follow the model of current freight brokerages. Still, the company has its eye on the trucking industry, particularly with self-driving rigs like the Otto it sent on a beer run in 2016.
What’s the Next Big Story?
The trucking wish list for 2018 includes action on the long-discussed need to repair the nation’s roads. The goal of tackling our crumbling infrastructure issues appears to have bipartisan support in Congress, which could bode well for progress on the issue.