Knowing the Difference

With Insure My Rig

Operating a trucking enterprise is a lot harder than most folks realize. At Insure My Rig, we know the difference. Here, we offer you insights, analysis and opinions on America's trucking industry.

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Avery Vise VP, Trucking for FTR Transport Intelligence recently gave his firm’s outlook for the trucking and freight economy at the recent Motor Carrier Insurance Education Foundation (MCIEF) Annual Conference held in October.

Rear-view mirror shows industry slow to respond

According to Vise, manufacturing surged starting in late 2016, the trend peaking in the summer of 2018. He also explained to attendees that retail sales were surging, and construction was strong.

Unfortunately, Vise explained carriers were slow to respond having not added the capacity needed to handle this demand. Citing uncertainties over the Trump administration’s policy on electronic logging devices (ELDs) Vise noted that probably played a role in holding back a more robust response. Vise and FTR surmise that ELDs significantly hit productivity, especially among small carriers.

FTR’s analysis: Even with more trucks and drivers and slower freight growth, overall capacity and demand are closely balanced.

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America's trucking industry

Now that electronic logging device (ELD) mandates are reality it’s the device’s and the law’s duty to ensure drivers comply with other rules that monitor and to a certain extent, control their behavior to proscribed norms.

Although the “big brother” aspect of ELDs are indisputable and driver’s privacy concerns are well founded, the technology may actually be helping rather than hindering driver’s time behind the wheel.

Where’s my pencil? I need to write this down

Electronically enabled monitoring and data logging generally relieves drivers of tedious logging and record-keeping (the paperwork) and automating many of those administrative and wrote logging tasks that most drivers on the road right now are now old enough to remember they learned to hate.

The technology facilitates considerably more accurate recording of all driver activity by providing periodic snapshots of the vehicle’s location throughout the driver’s day (mandated by HoS). ELDs automate the recording of a variety of metrics including:

  • Hours of...

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On August 14, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued to the trucking industry a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Hours of Service (HoS). According to a local news outlet, the FMCSA”s 129-page proposal, provides more options for drivers while maintaining safety standards.

In early July, the Associated Press reported that the DOT’s truck regulating agency was taking steps to “relax” the current HOS rules, which many view positively as good example of the Trump administration’s de-regulation efforts, which are viewed favorably by most commercial business interests, if not safety interests.

Trying to get it right, listening to truckers

According to a report in Logistics Management, FMCSA officials claim their proposal won’t increase driving time and would continue to prevent CMV operators without at least a 30-minute change in duty status. Officials say the proposed rule is estimated to provide $274 million in savings for the United States economy and its consumers. The proposal was opened for 45-day notice of proposed...

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Remember when citizen-band (CB) radios emigrated from trucker’s cabs to America’s hearts? Can you hear the strains of CW McCall’s “Convoy” as it climbed to number one in 1975?

For nostalgia’s sake here’s the opening to that classic:

“Was the dark of the moon on the sixth of June

In a Kenworth pullin' logs

Cab-over Pete with a reefer on

And a Jimmy haulin' hogs

We is headin' for bear on I-one-oh

'Bout a mile outta Shaky Town

I says, "Pig Pen, this here's the Rubber Duck.

"And I'm about to put the hammer down."

Before digital disruption or whatever epoch of the industrial age we are in, and before access to cheap solid-state radios, truckers didn’t really have many channels with which to communicate independently and interact among each other while operating their rigs. It was isolating. But access to cheap solid state radios which permitted access to CB radio frequencies launched a cultural phenomenon in the late ‘60s and through the ‘70s.

A cultural alignment like few others

Recall...

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No one enjoys hearing the news that a family-run trucking company is parking its rigs for good. The headline in June was harsh, slightly sensational, but plainly factual: “Indiana trucking company to shut down after insurance costs double, rates fall.”

Thinking about what one might say to the press and employees on camera about why your business was all of a sudden failing, one might be tempted to blame a couple very familiar bogeymen like Big government and uncaring insurance companies.

It’s sort of like what Shakespeare said in one of his plays: “First, let’s kill all the lawyers.” Even way back when, there was enough general loathing for the predations of the profession in general society that a clever wag could toss out that bit of populist red meat and without doubt, the audience and everyone is in on the laugh.

Reported in FreightWaves by Ashley Coker, the owner of Anderson, Indiana based A.L.A. Trucking, Inc. Alan Adams lamented that because of the way the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) handles Compliance, Safety,...

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Commercial Trucking Across the Nation

A cat without a tail is known as a “bobtail.” You may know one. Semi-tractor trucks without their trailers are also known as bobtails. You also may know one. After that, at least in trucking, the use of “Bobtail” by the industry becomes a little murky. For instance, straight short-haul box trucks are being called bobtails now too. So are those “bobtailing” operators driving the packaged goods economy.

But that’s just a digression. To most owner operators working under contract with large shippers “bobtail” refers not so much to the truck but the absence of a load and a trailer to tow it with.

Bobtails and bobtailers

Bobtailing in the vernacular of owner operator truckers, refers to the act of driving a tractor without a trailer—a term they interchange with deadheading, because there is no load involved. Most class 8 and class 7 owner operators are familiar with the concept because they often must transit from one dispatch to another with no trailer and no load.

Their truck is also...

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Like Tiger Woods at the Master’s this year, hydrogen fuel-cell power for trucks is back baby! Also like Tiger, hydrogen fuel cells for powering commercial vehicles have been a celebrity on the emissions-free vehicle links for decades now, minus the messy divorce, and whole nine-iron in the back window thing of course.

Ready to deliver the power of water to fuel trucking’s next wave of emission’s-free motive power, Nikola extolled the benefits of two new designs, the Nikola Tre (for Europe only) and the Nikola 2 just before Easter. For hydrogen fuel-cell powered semi’s it truly is a comeback of sorts, but unlike Tiger, the technology never actually made it to the Masters as a prominent competitor.

Hydrogen fuel cells to make electricity is one of those “Future is now!” technologies that has been on the periphery of industrial and commercial application for years. Sure, piloted it here, demonstrated there, the tech is on a solid foundation, but it just did not catch on – mostly because of the infrastructure required to supply hydrogen fuel reliably, sustainably and...

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Semi Truck Transportation

Is the U.S. labor market for truck drivers broken? Well, the answer to that depends on who you ask lately. If you ask Stephen Burks, a professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Minnesota Morris, or his bureaucratic research acolyte Kristen Monaco with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), they don’t really think it is, even though their new study posits the question as the title of their latest work.

Basically, after a deep dive into a big pool of labor statistics data, they conclude that while the market is tight for long-distance drivers, turnover is not a big deal and that all the trucking industry has to do to attract more drivers is bump up pay a bit, and like most labor markets in the blue collar category, that will provide the wage incentives to fill any gaps.

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If you live in the Great Lakes region of the country, right about this time of year things tend to get a bit dreary. It’s cold, it’s gray, and the weathered slush piles are eroded just enough to see all the trash. For everything, and everybody west of the Appalachians, New York, Pennsylvania, on through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and on up by Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota way, it is really is a lovely time of year, perhaps even rivaling mud season in Colorado.

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Regarding driver retention, if there was business management lecture series for fleet operations managers titled “How to read driver’s damn minds,” it would likely be standing room only. Fortunately, or unfortunately there’s an app for that, and it’s being brought to you by the entrepreneurs at Work Hound, whose stated mission is “helping people love the work they do.” Wow, that’s a fantastic sentiment.

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Technology of all kinds integrating its way into the cockpits of commercial fleet trucks and the impact is now being felt among fleets and drivers across the logistics landscape. From ELDs to engine monitoring, the integration of cloud-based, wireless networked digital technologies and sensing devices is bringing “Industry 4.0” principals to trucking; the “digital disruption” that everybody in the commercial economy is talking about.

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Want to thank your truck drivers for all their service during the holiday season? Find him or her a parking spot. Seriously.

Of all the issues, truck parking ranked second by drivers in the recent American Trucking Research Institute’s (ATRI’s) annual study of the Top 10 Driver and Carrier Issues, concerns about Hours of Service (HoS) mandates ranked, not surprisingly number one.

Carriers, on the other hand, ranked driver shortage number one, placing driver retention in the number-two slot.

ATRI announced the results of its annual survey the end of October at the 2018 American Trucking Associations’ Management Conference and Exhibition in Austin, Texas. Survey results were tabulated from more than 1,500 responses from motor carriers and commercial drivers.

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Semi-Truck Insurance

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently announced that 2017 highway fatality numbers dropped 1.8% following two consecutive years of large increases. That is good news, but the bad news is that even though preliminary estimates for the first six months of 2018 appear to show that this downward trend is continuing, fatal crashes involving heavy-duty trucks were up 9% in 2017 compared with 2016.

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National Truck Driver Appreciation Week

If there ever was a time to publicly thank the truckers in your life, National Truck Driver Appreciation Week might be a great opportunity. Designating the first full week after Labor Day to celebrate our country's toughest laborers, America's professional truck drivers, The American Trucking Associations (ATA) started the party September 10. The entire week, said ATA, is set aside to honor the country's ~3.5 million truck drivers, those everyday heroes that safely and professionally deliver everything that is making America great right now.

Defining what National Truck Driver Appreciation Week, is all about, ATA President and CEO Chris Spear wants the national media and everyone living in the U.S. to know that "Truck drivers are an integral part of the nation's growing economy and deserve to be celebrated by their companies, customers, neighbors, families and friends."

These Drivers Improve Our Quality of Life

Everything that we consume says Spear, from food and clothing to shelter and medicine, is delivered by a truck driver and there is...

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Recreational vehicles have been with us for a long time. It’s a mature industry that has seen its share of cycles; boom and bust. Right now the RV industry is in a tremendous growth cycle and it is pushing a new and significant trend across the commercial transport and shipping landscape. But don’t think it’s just Grandma and Grandpa spending their pensions on one last shot of freedom.

Here come Justin and Jessica

For those of us pushing past 50 the stereotype of Bill and Barbara driving the Winnebago down to Clearwater from Indianapolis after Christmas is forever etched in our minds; especially having spent so much time behind them heading south into Chattanooga.

Chances are the folks you see rolling out of a shiny new Sprinter conversion to fuel up or kicking the tires on a spiffy new Airstream at the rest stop are decidedly NOT Bill in Barb; more like Justin and Jessica. Along with hundreds of thousands of other millennials shedding house-filling materialism for experiences on the open road. Justin and Jessica don’t have a ton of coin, but...

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It wasn’t all too long ago that among the persona non grata eschewed by the beltway glitterati were truckers (drivers) and their dirty, smelly big intimidating and dangerous trucks. Ask the EPA, DOT SEC, IRA, FMCSA or any other agency concerned with U.S. commerce, trucks hauling freight on their roads was a necessary evil, to be tolerated, but only after reigning in their social and environmental transgressions with comprehensive regulation.

It wasn’t so long ago that trucking came to dominate the freight industry in the latter portion of the 20th Century -- achieving national attention during the ‘60s and ‘70s. Remember the CB craze? Thank a trucker. Remember when the charts were topped with songs and movies about truckers? Anybody remember the song and movie Convoy? How about Sally Field and Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit? That truck based Hollywood vehicle drove everyone to the movies. Trucking was American, trucking was sexy, drivers’ were the warriors and at times, heroes of the road.

Popular culture complimented the industry but it wasn’t all Coors east...

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Two months since the inception of the ELD mandate and already legislators are looking to change settled law. Ah well, nothing new in the land of (to paraphrase the house minority leader) “you’ve got to pass it before you can know what’s in it” lawmaking – or something to that effect. Recent headlines focus on the relief being sought by congress people for two groups within trucking suffering some indigestion from ELD implementation: livestock haulers and owner-operators.

It’s Been Churning for a Long Time

It’s not like proponents and opponents of current law didn’t have enough time to sort it out before now. An analyst for GPSTrackit offers its web viewers a quick trip down memory lane citing that by the mid-1980s, motor carriers had begun implementing relatively functional ELDs (AOBRDS) to record HoS for drivers. However this was early in the devices technical development and downloading data was challenging because of telemetry issues transmitting data among others.

Then came the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) which lobbied the...

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At just a little over a month out from the April 1, 2018 start of the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) mandate and the sense out there on the trucking industry’s prairie seems to be that of an unsettled peace, as the various players turn inward to try and figure out how to satisfy the “man,” live the American dream and keep just a little more pay in their pockets in the face of ELD-era regulation.

To truck owners and fleet operators America’s roads are analogous to the fields of opportunity that John Steinbeck used as the setting for his characters in his iconic novella Of Mice and Men. The title is taken from Robert Burns' poem "To a Mouse", and offers this Shakespeare-worthy word of caution regarding the human condition: "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley." (For non-18th century Scotts: “The best laid schemes of mice and men / Often go awry.”)

To the federal government, ELDs are indeed a “best-laid” scheme. By design. What’s not to LOVE? Awesome application of trouble-free modern (relatively) cheap technology, no paper records, unambiguous HOS...

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A new energy is going to be required to recruit and retain truck drivers and the industry is agitating for some fresh ideas to get more “butts” in the driver’s seat of America’s trucks. American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) statistics projected in 2015 that it would take hiring almost a million drivers over the coming decade just to maintain the existing labor force.

Although officially known as the “Driver Shortage” the issue has been a chronic PITA for the industry for decades. The sources of this malaise are as numerous as they are challenging to overcome, but for the most part, stem from the rapidly aging demographics of the current population of drivers who are leaving the industry, and the inability of said industry to attract and retain new drivers and bring them into the profession at a rate faster than attrition.

Demographically one of the largest groups to offer a potential pool of new talent are people from 18 to 25 years of age; a truck driver has to be 21 to obtain a CDL for interstate commerce, which naturally prevents those younger than 21...

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