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All indications in the National Transportation Safety Board's latest "Most Wanted List" of problems to fix in transportation point to one thing: in many ways, technology across that broad industry isn't just advancing, it's accelerating. It is both problem and solution.

Technology is the unifying and strongest theme running through NTSB's updated list this year as well as the related recommendations the agency has for state governments and others to solve these "most critical" woes in transportation. NTSB investigates transportation accidents and deaths throughout the year, and the Most Wanted List shows how the focus for those efforts is changing, as these problems themselves are.

Human-caused errors and limitations such as those caused by fatigue and distraction are costing lives, but technology and machines could help. Or driver/ operator assistance and oversight systems in transportation such as advanced and increasingly autonomous safety systems are surging ahead fast in terms of technology's potential and maturity. 

"These issue areas are ripe for action now; if addressed, they would make a significant impact," the agency stated in outlining the list. There are some adjustments each year, but just flip back to the 2016 Most Wanted List for a telling look at what's been changing—as well as how fleets and trucking operations can expect efforts like safety inspection and law enforcement activity will be directed. 

2016: Disconnect from deadly distractions.
2019: Eliminate distraction.

NTSB has sharpened this one up, getting away from "deadly distractions" to now fully any distraction behind the wheel. Naturally, there's a technology focus: the agency has called on the states to ban nonemergency use of mobile electronic devices that don't support the driving task and mobile device manufacturers to build in safeguards to disable use by drivers in moving vehicles. 

NTSB also wants passenger bus/ motorcoach operators to issue policies prohibiting nonemergency cell phone use when driving.

2016: End substance impairment in transportation.
2019: End alcohol and other drug impairment.

NTSB correctly focuses the discussion to a single category here: drug-related impairment, and that includes alcohol. On that front, the agency has urged states to adopt stricter blood alcohol limits of 0.05% for motorists to be driving under the influence, but the agency is also clearly acknowledging changes that have been taking place in this arena such as cannabis legalization and growing prescription medication abuse. 

"Impairment in transportation is not limited to just alcohol; it also includes impairment by other drugs—legal or illicit," NTSB stated. "We want a national drug testing standard for passenger vehicles and stronger screening and toxicology testing in commercial transportation."  

2016: Reduce fatigue-related accidents.
2019: Reduce fatigue-related accidents (no change).
[RELATED]
2016: Require medical fitness for duty.
2019: Require medical fitness—screen for and treat Obstructive Sleep Apnea.

Note that a call to "reduce fatigue-related accidents" has survived from 2016 and remains on the Most Wanted List on its own, and NTSB has a number of related recommendations. Much more tied to fatigue now, however, is a related push for motor carriers to address Obstructive Sleep Apnea in drivers. NTSB has also asked the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to encourage motor carriers to adopt fatigue-management programs.

In the Most Wanted List this year, the agency was very direct concerning Obstructive Sleep Apnea, stating: "We want to see mandatory screening and treatment for obstructive sleep apnea for rail and highway personnel in safety-sensitive positions." 

2016: Promote availability of collision-avoidance technology in highway vehicles.
2019: Increase implementation of collision avoidance systems in all new highway vehicles.
[RELATED]
2016: Promote the completion of rail safety initiatives.
2019: Fully implement positive train control.

Here's where technology presents its shiniest silver bullet to target human error. Back in 2016, NTSB was calling for more availability of collision-mitigation and -avoidance systems, but there's no ambiguity left here now. The objective—for road vehicles as well as trains, since "positive train control" works similarly—is simply to get these systems out there across the board.

That is, collision-avoidance systems have transitioned from promising new technology to a moot point/ bygone conclusion. NTSB's wording approaches a sense of dismay these systems aren't already in uniform use. "Vehicle manufacturers should make this technology standard equipment on all vehicles," NTSB stated, "and consumers, informed about the technology's capabilities and limitations, should buy vehicles equipped with it." 

2016: N/A - No list item targeting speeding.
2019: Implement a comprehensive strategy to reduce speed-related collisions.

In the last three years, speeding—amid more road congestion and languishing infrastructure—has earned its own place on the list. No matter the vehicle, speeding makes it likelier you'll crash and makes injuries worse if you do. And along with public awareness campaigns, NTSB calls for technology in various forms to help bring change.

That might include external systems such as automated enforcement tech and smart infrastructure that can detect and cite drivers for speeding or internal, in-vehicle systems of some kind. Regarding that latter kind, two words: speed limiters. NTSB has called for those devices on new heavy trucks and buses. 

2016: N/A - No list item targeting hazardous materials transport.
2019: Ensure the safe shipment of hazardous materials.

This particular Most Wanted List item is more driven by economic realities than the others. Within the last three years in the transition from the Obama to the Trump Administration, for example, the United States has significantly expanded oil production, including from natural gas, and is now a net exporter. That also means more oil and refined fuels need to be transported, including with more tanker trucks on the roads.

Combining with other factors like infrastructure problems, Americans favoring larger vehicles, increasing roadway congestion, and growing transportation/ distribution needs, and all that flammable material out on the road could be life-threatening indeed. 

2016: Strengthen occupant protection.
2019: Strengthen occupant protection (no change).

NTSB targets the motoring public most with this list item, but improving vehicle occupant protection and ensuring seatbelt use touches commercial trucks frequently and persistently as well—including in regards to passenger use, which can be a problem in heavy trucks.

NTSB has also called for lap-and-shoulder belts for all passengers in new buses and also would like to see tanker truck side-impact crashworthiness "to prevent catastrophic tank ruptures and limit post-collision fuel spillage."

That rounds out NTSB's latest Most Wanted List as it applies to trucking and ground transportation, but there's a final item: "Improve the safety of Part 135 aircraft flight operations." In 2016, that appeared as "Prevent loss of control in flight and general aviation." Part 135 aircraft offer things like air tours, medical evac, and charter flights and don't have to meet the same safety requirements as commercial airlines, which the agency said leaves them open to disaster. 

In another three years, will drones, perhaps including those used in delivery innovations, have proliferated enough in use to catch NTSB's attention? If so, you can bet the answer will be to advance technology and enforcement—just as the agency's recommendations to address those less-formalized Part 135 aircraft requirements now.

"Let me point out something: the NTSB does not simply come up with these recommendations based on a whim," emphasized Chairman Robert Sumwalt. "It's a data-driven approach based on the results of our investigations and the tragic, senseless deaths that we investigate.

"The NTSB's Most Wanted List," he added, "is written in blood."

 

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Can you see that tiny dot? Look closer. Let me tell you about that dot, and why doing things the right way when working on vehicles and always following proper safety procedures matters, every time and even if it feels like no big deal.

Just last night I had to check something out on my car. I'd been hearing this rattle underneath, so I thought I'd take a quick look to see if it was something obvious.

I pulled the car up on ramps in the driveway and chocked the wheels. It's getting dark pretty early now, and light was fading. Grabbed a flashlight to help but I could still see fine; got some gloves, tools, and one of my million pairs of safety glasses over by the workbench.

Engine running, there was the rattle. I slid underneath. Seemed to be coming from a buzzing heat shield, so I pressed at them with a ratchet to see—wasn't that one over the exhaust pipe, not the one over the catalytic.

I unbolted part of that latter shield so I could reach the lower end of another above the exhaust manifold. Bingo, there was the rattle. Engine off, I removed some parts above so I could get at it. A loose bolt was causing the heat shield to vibrate.

Bolt tightened and rattle gone, so was the sunlight, and garage lights and flashlight it was. Should've grabbed a trouble light, but I put the car back together and put away the tools.

Except... what's that bolt laying there? Oh, right—forgot to put that back into the heat shield over the catalytic.

No problem. I slid back under to take care of it, leaving behind the gloves and safety glasses I'd taken off and put in the garage.

I don't know why or how it is that anything that falls off of engines seems to aim straight for your eyes, but it does. I barely noticed, but something hit my left eye as I tightened the bolt back in.

I blinked a bunch of times hoping to clear it, pulled the car off the ramps, and went for a spin to test it out. All good.

But the eye kept bothering me as I went back in the house. Had to be something in there, and whatever it was wouldn't blink out. Grabbing another flashlight, it was scrub up and bathroom mirror time.

I looked and looked but couldn't find anything in the eye. In one of my first jobs I spent years working for an optometrist, and we had a number of situations like this come up. This was not unfamiliar territory.

Nothing was in there I could see. The eye was getting worse fast, nice and fully red now and not happy at all every time I blinked. I rinsed it over and over, flushing it with water. No help.

And then, taking an exasperated last look, I thought I spotted a speck of something pretty far in on the underside of my upper eyelid, maybe. I decided to try, very gently, to get it out.

There aren't an awful lot of things you can use to do that and not cause damage in such an amateur setting, but I decided to try a cotton swab softened with warm water. I lifted the eyelid and gave the speck one careful pass.

And as soon as I blinked again, I knew I got it. The eye was still plenty irritated, but oh. What a relief.

Turns out it was a tiny metal shaving that dug itself into the inside of my eyelid, raking along with every blink and just doing wonders for my cornea.

Truck and automotive service technicians know these lessons well. They work on machinery in a hands-on, dirty and potentially dangerous environment that you'd better respect, because not taking the proper steps, following safety protocols, and wearing the right safety gear for eyes, ears, etc. as the case may be can land you some very serious harm, even if it's just something very small or finishing up real quick.   

"Sorry" got me this time, but at least it was just a little reminder. It is always better to be safe.

 

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A mix of good and bad is before trucking. But many business leaders still see bright days ahead.

There are a lot of mixed signals emanating from several economic quarters right now for trucking to ponder.

In terms of positives, the ongoing surge in Class 8 orders coupled with higher spot rates indicate the times are good to be in trucking.

Then, of course, are the negatives: a growing lack of truck drivers, which is putting upward pressure on pay (that really isn’t a bad thing though); the ongoing wrangling over the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate and Hours of Service (HOS) regulations, which is causing trouble in several trucking niches; and, alongside all of that, fears of a trade war with China and other nations.

So far at least the economic metrics seem to be holding steady. The Institute for Supply Management (ISM), for example, noted that activity in the manufacturing and non-manufacturing sectors of the U.S. economy keeps growing, albeit at a slower pace right now compared to the start of 2018.

For example, in the manufacturing sector, ISM’s inventory reading dipped 1.2 points month-over-month to 55.5 in March, the new order metric slipped 2.3 points month-over-month to 61.9 in March, while the group’s pricing index went up 3.9 points month over month to 78.1 in March.

The non-manufacturing sector index as a whole held steady at 58.8% in March, just a 0.7 percentage point lower than, which represents “continued growth” though at a slightly slower rate. ISM’s nonmanufacturing new orders index in particular dropped 5.3 percentage points month-over-month to 59.5 – a dip that indicated a “cooling off” of activity in the non-manufacturing sector that “possibly prevented an even stronger reading” for its monthly index. Yet “the majority of respondents [to ISM’s monthly survey] remain positive about business conditions,” added Anthony Nieves, ISM’s chairman

That “positivity,” for lack of a better word, is more evident in a broader poll of chief financial officers (CFOs) working for North American companies recently conducted by global consulting firm Deloitte.

The company’s CFO Signals survey for the first quarter discerned what it dubbed a “a surge in optimism” among CFOs about the current and future states of major economic regions, as well as their own company prospects – with their “net optimism” spiking to a high of plus 54 from the fourth quarter 2017 reading of 47, as 59% of the 155 CFOs polled by Deloitte said they were “more optimistic” about their own company's prospects, while just 6% were pessimistic

CFO assessments of the North American economy grew even stronger this quarter, Deloitte added, with nearly 90% of CFOs rating current conditions as good, up from 74% uin the fourth quarter of last year – a “new survey high by a wide margin,” the firm added – with nearly 60% expecting “better conditions” in a year.

All key business outlook metrics, tracked by the survey for 32 consecutive quarters, rose to multiyear highs, largely on skyrocketing optimism in the U.S., Deloitte pointed out. Revenue growth expectations rose from 4.7% to 5.9% and now sits at a two-year high, while expectations for earnings growth increased from 8.4% to 9.8%, which is the highest level in nearly three years, the firm stressed. Finally, expectations for growth in capital investment rose sharply from 6.5% to 11%, a five-year high, while expectations for growth in domestic personnel increased from 2% to 3.1% – again, a new survey high.

“Over the past year, CFO positive sentiment [has been] underpinned by positive assessments of the North American economy and, more recently, by rising perceptions of Europe and China,” said Sanford Cockrell III, national managing partner of the U.S. CFO program for Deloitte. “CFOs continue to be strongly optimistic this quarter, and confidence appears to be further bolstered by the passage of tax reform in the U.S. And for those companies that expect repatriated earnings, investment is far and away CFOs' top expected use for the windfall.” 

None of this, of course, is set in stone – expectations and projections can change quickly in business as we all know. Yet when the folks in charge of the financial stability of major North American companies still see a lot of green lights for their businesses ahead, that’s a very good sign – especially as more business activity means more freight for truckers and a change to book better rates. Let’s see if this outlook stays the course in the months ahead.

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Trucking needs to ponder its digital defenses as cyberthreats keep growing.

There’s much talk about how automation and gamification are changing trucking. But could those two trends also be poised to change how the freight business and other industries defend themselves against cyberattacks?

That’s what cybersecurity firm McAfee thinks, based in part from the findings of a new report it compiled called Winning the Game. That study indicated that “concerted efforts” to increase job satisfaction, automation in security operations center (SOC) facilities and “gamification” in the workplace are key to beating cybercriminals at their own game.

“With cybersecurity breaches being the norm for organizations, we have to create a workplace that empowers cybersecurity responders to do their best work,” noted Grant Bourzikas, chief information security officer at McAfee. “Consider that nearly a quarter of respondents say that to do their job well, they need to increase their teams by a quarter, keeping our workforce engaged, educated and satisfied at work is critical to ensuring organizations do not increase complexity in the already high-stakes game against cybercrime.”

That effort includes trucking, for cybersecurity is considered by many observers to now be a “core concern” for the industry as global supply chains become more and more digitized.

And the landscape for cyberthreats is growing, both in complexity and volume, noted McAfee. According to its survey of 300 senior security managers and 650 security professionals in public-sector and private-sector organizations with 500 or more employees in the U.S., U.K., Germany, France, Singapore, Australia and Japan, 46% of respondents believe that in the next year they will either struggle to deal with the increase of cyberthreats or that it will be impossible to defend against them.

Further complicating the dynamics of the competition between security responder and cybercriminal is the cybersecurity skills crisis as respondents to McAfee’s poll believe they need to increase their information technology [IT] staff by nearly a quarter (24%) to manage the threats their organizations are currently facing, while 84% admit it is difficult to attract talent and 31% say they do not actively do anything to attract new talent.

[As an aside: finding and keeping “talent” for the long-term is an issue with huge implications for many industries, but especially for trucking, particularly where driver pay is concerned.]

And this isn’t about putting smiley-faces on IT workers, either, as cyberattacks are having a significant and growing financial impact on businesses worldwide. According the Cost of Cyber Crime study conducted by consulting firm Accenture and the Ponemon Institute, the average cost of cybercrime globally climbed to $11.7 million per organization, a 23% increase from $9.5 million reported in 2016, and represents a “staggering” 62% increase in the last five years, the report noted.

In comparison, companies in the U.S. incurred the highest total average cost at $21.22 million while Germany experienced the most significant increase in total cybercrime costs from $7.84 million to $11.15 million.

That study, which polled 2,182 security and IT professionals in 254 organizations worldwide, uncovered a variety of disturbing cybercrime trends:

  • On average, companies suffered 130 breaches per year in 2017, a 27.4% increase over 2016 and almost double what it was five years ago. Breaches are defined as core network or enterprise system infiltrations.
  • Companies in the financial services and energy sectors are the worst hit, with an average annual cost of $18.28 million and $17.2 million respectively.
  • The time to resolve issues is showing similar increases. Among the most time-consuming incidents are those involving malicious insiders, which take on average 50 days to mitigate while ransomware takes an average of more than 23 days.
  • Malware and Web-based attacks are the two cyberattack types that inflict the most damage, with companies spending an average of $2.4 million and $2 million respectively to recover from them.

Of the nine security technologies evaluated, the highest percentage spend was on advanced perimeter controls, yet companies deploying these security solutions only realized an operational cost savings of $1 million associated with identifying and remediating cyberattacks, suggesting possible inefficiencies in the allocation of resources.

Among the most effective categories in reducing losses from cybercrime are security intelligence systems, defined as tools that ingest intelligence from various sources that help companies identify and prioritize internal and external threats, the report found

They delivered substantial cost savings of $2.8 million, higher than all other technology types included in this study. Automation, orchestration and machine learning technologies were only deployed by 28% of organizations – the lowest of the technologies surveyed – yet provided the third highest cost savings for security technologies overall at $2.2 million.

The Accenture/Ponemon study also identified four “main impacts” on organizations from cyberattacks: business disruption, loss of information, loss of revenue and damage to equipment. The most damaging of those today is loss of information, mentioned by 43% of organizations represented in the study. In contrast, the cost of business disruption, such as business process failures following an attack, has decreased from 39% in 2015 to 33% in 2017.

“The foundation of a strong and effective security program is to identify and ‘harden’ the most-high value assets,” noted Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder of the Ponemon Institute. “While steady progress has been made in improving cyber defense, a better understanding of the cost of cybercrime could help businesses bridge the gap between their own vulnerabilities and the escalating creativity – and numbers – of threat actors.”

OK, so back to the original question: how can automation and gamification help counteract the costly growing threat posed by cybercrime?

On the automation front, by pairing human intelligence with automated tasks and putting human-machine teaming in practice, automated programs handle basic security protocols while practitioners have their time freed up to proactively address unknown threats. According to McAfee’s poll:

  • 81% of IT professionals believe their organization’s cybersecurity would be safer if it implemented greater automation
  • A quarter say that automation frees up time to focus on innovation and value-added work
  • Nearly a third (32%) of those not investing in automation say it is due to lack of in-house skills

In terms of gamification, which is the “concept of applying elements of game-playing to non-game activities,” using exercises such as hackathons, capture-the-flag, red team-blue team or “bug bounty programs” help boost awareness of cybersecurity issues and hone skills to deal with them.  are the most common, and In fact, respondents who report they are extremely satisfied with their jobs are most likely to work for an organization that runs games or competitions multiple times per year.

  • More than half (57%) report that using games increases awareness and IT staff knowledge of how breaches can occur
  • 43% say gamification enforces a teamwork culture needed for quick and effective cybersecurity
  • Three-quarters (77%) of senior managers agree that their organization would be safer if they leveraged more gamification
  • Almost all (96%) of those firms that said they use cybersecurity gamification in the workplace report seeing benefits.

To address the shortage of skilled cybersecurity workers, McAfee’s report findings suggest that gamers, those engaged and immersed in online competitions, may be the logical next step to plugging the gap. Nearly all (92%) of respondents believe that gaming affords players experience and skills critical to cybersecurity threat hunting: logic, perseverance, an understanding of how to approach adversaries and a fresh outlook compared to traditional cybersecurity hires.

Indeed, more than three quarters (78%) of respondents say the current generation entering the workforce, who have been raised playing video games, are stronger candidates for cybersecurity roles than traditional hires.

Things to consider as the cybersecurity threats facing trucking aren’t going to diminish anytime soon.

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Fuel efficiency benefits can be lost due to a range of factors, especially traffic congestion and driving habits.

“Cooperative federalism doesn’t mean 1 state can dictate standards for the rest of the country. @EPA will set a nat’l standard for GHG emissions that allows auto manufacturers to make cars ppl want & can afford, while still expanding environmental & safety benefits of newer cars.” —Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, via Twitter yesterday.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officially wrapped up its year-long Midterm Evaluation (MTE) process for the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards for car and light truck model years (MY) 2022 through 2025 – and the findings from that review are already churning the political and policy waters.

The agency determined that, in light of recent data, the current standards are “not appropriate and should be revised.” Thus, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt also announced late yesterday the start of a joint process with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to develop a notice and comment rulemaking to set more appropriate GHG emissions standards and Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards.

“The Obama Administration's determination was wrong,” Pruitt said in a statement. “Obama’s EPA cut the MTE process short with politically charged expediency, made assumptions about the standards that didn’t comport with reality, and set the standards too high.”

Under the Clean Air Act (CAA), EPA sets national standards for vehicle tailpipe emissions of certain pollutants. Through a CAA waiver previously granted by EPA, California can impose stricter standards for vehicle emissions of certain pollutants than federal requirements but that controversial waiver is still being reexamined by the agency.

Cooperative federalism doesn’t mean that one state can dictate standards for the rest of the country,” Pruitt noted. “EPA will set a national standard for greenhouse gas emissions that allows auto manufacturers to make cars that people both want and can afford — while still expanding environmental and safety benefits of newer cars. It is in America's best interest to have a national standard, and we look forward to partnering with all states, including California, as we work to finalize that standard.”

[The fear that California would “go it alone” and create an entire separate set of standards is one of trucking’s biggest fears where the EPA’s current GHG revision efforts are concerned.]

Many groups were quick to denounce the EPA’s findings, even before they’d been made official.

“Today’s announcement will create additional uncertainty and extend the process by which clear 2025 targets will be established,” noted John Boesel, president and CEO of CALSTART. “Our recent confidential survey shows that suppliers see the current fuel economy standards as good for jobs and good for investment. The suppliers not only back the current standards but are also very supportive of the three agencies working together to establish new ones for the 2026-2032 period.”

“Auto manufacturers have invested billions in a wide range of proven technologies that improve fuel economy and reduce emissions,” said Bob Perciasepe, president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. “These are the very innovations envisioned when the current vehicle standards were adopted. If properly crafted, modest adjustments to the standards could make cleaner cars more affordable to more consumers without compromising on environmental objectives. Automakers could, for instance, be granted more time to meet more ambitious standards.”

He stressed that if EPA “is intent on weakening” federal GHG light vehicle standards, “it must continue to respect states’ rights” to enforce stronger ones.

“Congress explicitly allowed for a federalist approach in the implementation of the CAA,” Perciasepe noted. “California and a dozen other states, which together comprise almost 40% of the U.S. light duty automobile market, have demonstrated their strong commitment to public health and climate protection. It would be a major mistake to discount these state goals in favor of litigation and uncertainty for America’s automobile manufacturers.”

Yet other groups think the EPA’s decisions resulting from its MTE effort are the right ones – and hope to scuttle the GHG “carve out” given to California.

“Manufacturers support the greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy program for automobiles.‎ We agree with the EPA that the program should be updated based on lessons that have been learned from prior years, using the most current data,” said Ross Eisenberg, vice president for energy and resources policy for the National Association of Manufacturers. “‎Ultimately, manufacturers need a single national program that provides regulatory certainty and maintains vehicle affordability.”

NADA has long supported a data-driven and informed process for determining future greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards, and we applaud EPA for putting us back on this path,” added Peter Welch, the group’s president and CEO. [FYI: NADA used to be known as the “National Automobile Dealers Association.”]

“America’s franchised auto dealers fully support continuous improvements in fuel economy and vehicle emissions, and we fully support fuel economy requirements that will allow us to build on the progress we’ve already achieved while keeping new vehicles affordable,” he said. “Standards alone – whatever they are – won’t do the trick. But smart standards that maintain affordability and encourage fleet turnover will help maximize the number of cleaner, safer and more fuel-efficient vehicles we get on the road every year.”

Welch’s point that “standards alone … won’t do the trick” is a good one, especially where commercial trucks are concerned.

One of the interesting issues with the heavy truck and trailer GHG rules – aside, of course, from their cost – is that they place the burden of compliance upon OEMs, not the end user. Thus if the vehicle’s owner decides to use a different grade of engine oil, or replace more expensive low-rolling resistance tires with cheaper models, or remove tractor and trailer fairings to get better curb clearance for urban operations, or any of a half-dozen other things, then the fuel savings pegged to the vehicle’s original spec when it left the factory may be less than expected – if not eliminated altogether.

[As an aside, about two years ago, the argument was made that all of the fuel savings expected to be generated by Phase 2 GHG rules pretty much evaporate when compared to the amount of fuel wasted by heavy trucks sitting idle every year in traffic congestion.]

And of course how a truck or tractor-trailer is driven probably determines the vehicle’s ultimate fuel economy numbers at the end of the day.

Those are things to keep in mind as the battle over revising the GHG regulations for cars and light trucks gets started.

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EPA expected to announce plans to “revise” Obama era rules this week.

The hue and cry is already starting over an expected move by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to “revise” light vehicle greenhouse gas (GHG) and fuel economy rules implemented during the Obama administration – even though that “move” hasn’t been made publicly yet.

Already, 12 states and the District of Columbia said they will sue the EPA if that “rollback” happens, while others are citing surveys and other research that those GHG standards actually save motorists money in the long run.

“The cost of meeting standards is likely being overstated by as much as 40% by the EPA,” according to a study by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT). “Based on current technology and cost trends, ICCT finds even more stringent standards out to 2030 are feasible” from a cost benefit perspective, the group noted.

“The nation has seen increased investment in manufacturing and job creation driven by the implementation of world-leading fuel economy and GHG standards,” noted Zoe Lipman, director of vehicles and advanced transportation for the BlueGreen Alliance, in a separate statement.

“If the EPA opts to write new rules, we will be watching to see whether those rules remain strong and continue the current trajectory of innovation, investment, and job growth. Stepping away from fuel economy leadership would put key elements of the nation’s economic progress in jeopardy,” Lipman said.

Indeed, that group recently released a report entitled Driving Investment: How Fuel Efficiency is Rebuilding American Manufacturing tracking investment in the nation’s automotive plants over the past decade as automakers have implemented current fuel economy standards – illustrating how fuel economy standards “drive innovation and enhance manufacturing growth and shows how what are often described as the ‘costs’ of compliance with clean vehicle standards actually represent a multi-billion dollar reinvestment in American manufacturing and jobs nationwide.”

Specifically, that report claims:

  • A total of $76 billion in new and promised investment in the nation’s automotive plants since 2008.
  • S. automakers have invested $64 billion in facilities across the country, completing 258 investments at 100 factories.
  • An additional $12 billion in investments in 37 facilities are underway or promised by 2020.

If the EPA plans to weaken standards, that would be fundamentally the wrong move. Rolling back strong national fuel economy and emissions standards will undermine the global competitiveness of the U.S. auto industry,” added Scott Stringer, the comptroller of New York City, investment advisor to — and custodian of — the $190 billion New York City Pension Funds, in a statement.

He stressed that New York is one of 13 states, plus the District of Columbia, that have adopted clean car standards that are in line with current national vehicle emissions and fuel economy standards

“In the absence of federal leadership, states need to continue to lead on clean car standards. That’s because an auto industry that doubles down on producing gas-guzzling cars is like making a bet on beepers in a smart-phone age. Fuel efficient vehicles are good for our environment – and good for business,” Stronger stressed.

“As shareholders in the biggest automotive companies – with nearly $200 million invested in Ford and General Motors alone – we can’t risk a slowdown in the pace of innovation that drives investment. Auto markets are increasingly global, and governments around the world are adopting standards that place a premium on clean, efficient, advanced vehicles,” he said. “If the EPA makes a short-sighted and backwards federal decision, as laboratories of innovation, the clean car states will continue to provide the signal automakers need to stay competitive and profitable.”

So, two questions: will those pronouncements lead to a protracted court battle aimed at maintaining the current GHG/fuel economy rules for light vehicles? And if that court battel is not successful – if the GHG/fuel economy rules for light vehicles get revised as planned – will EPA undertake a similar effort in the heavy truck arena, mirroring its efforts where glider kits are concerned?

Only time will tell. But it will "tell" pretty quickly, I am guessing. 

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It’s an issue that’s rarely gone away and is now only going to become more acute.

The annual “Transportation Spotlight” survey conducted by human resources firm HireRight uncovered a totally unsurprising concern from its poll of some 1,000 trucking executives and managers: recruiting and retaining drivers is one of their major challenges now.

The firm’s 2018 Transportation Spotlight report found that 69% said recruiting qualified candidates remains the top challenge, with 54% noting that retention is a big issue as well. And what do truck drivers cite as the main reasons why they are leaving their current employers? These responses should surprise no one:

  • To make more money (52%)
  • To spend more time at home (41%)
  • For better benefits (27%)
  • Because the job was not what they expected (26%)

This is far from an academic exercise, as anyone in the industry should know, because the truck driver population is starting to shrink due to a so-called “retirement wave” as veteran operators begin to age out of this occupation.

Currently, according to data gathered by the American Trucking Associations (ATA), the industry will need about 900,000 new drivers over the next decade or so to cope with this expected wave of retirements. Indeed 49% of those 900,000 will be needed to cover driver retirements alone, with only 28% required to handle ongoing freight growth, per the trade group’s numbers.

The reason for that “retirement spike” is that the average age of a U.S. truck driver now hovers around 50, compared to 42 for the average U.S. worker, noted Bob Costello, ATA’s chief economist, in a recent presentation. He also pointed out that the industry was also short about 51,000 drivers last year, based on freight demand – a shortage that is expected to jump to 174,000 by 2026 if the trend lines don’t change.

“That does not sound like a lot when you compare that to the often-cited 3.1 million truck drive population figure,” he explained. “But when you whittle it down, 1.7 million of them are tractor-trailer drivers and 500,000 of those are in that long-haul irregular route TL segment, which is where most of the shortage is. And being short 51,000 drivers in a population of 500,000 is a bigger deal.”

Dan Murray, vice president of the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), added in separate commentary that truck driver age levels are a “sobering issue” as the industry has one of the smallest percentages of younger workers. “And trucking is 5% of the nation’s GDP [gross domestic product],” he added.

Now, in terms of addressing driver recruiting and retention issues, it must be noted that pay is going up – and rather sharply at that.

Per the ATA’s latest Driver Compensation Study, the median salary for a TL driver working in 2017 a national, irregular route topped $53,000; a $7,000 or 15% increase from ATA’s last survey, which highlighted 2013 pay levels. Meanwhile, median private fleet driver pay jumped to $86,000 from $73,000 over the same four-year span, the trade group noted – a gain of nearly 18% – with median pay for all types of truck drivers combined up 11% compared to ATA’s last study.

HireRight’s survey also touched on some of the broader strategies industry executives are implementing to help alleviate the driver shortage.

Respondents said they plan to invest in developing retention programs (40%) as well as training and development programs (40%) in 2018. Specifically, among companies with more than 2,500 employees, 61% of respondents plan to invest in retention programs, and 58% plan to invest in training and development. That includes efforts to “improve the candidate experience” from application through onboarding (43%). And in a further effort to retain new talent, 38% of respondents said they are introducing new hires to company executives, 32% are implementing longer orientation and training periods, and 28% are appointing driver liaisons or mentors.

Other strategies cited in HireRight’s poll that are aimed at attracting and retaining drivers include:

  • Increasing follow-up communication (54%)
  • Employing non-monetary tactics such as driver appreciation events (53%)
  • Increasing pay (42%)
  • Using performance-based bonuses (40%)

It’s worthy to note that sign-on bonuses are back as a recruiting/retention tool and in a huge way at that. According to findings recently released by the National Transportation Institute (NTI), sign-on bonuses are “bigger than ever” even though “no one likes them.”

Per NTI’s analysis, median sign‐on bonuses for dry van drivers are up 280% over Feb. 2017, while refrigerated carriers – who are the “least likely” carriers to deploy sign‐on bonuses, the firm noted – raised their median bonus 300%.

Flatbeds carriers, who were enjoying improved freight rates in 2017 to start with, “walked away with the trophy” in terms of sign-on bonus activity, said Gordon Klemp, NTI’s principal – posting a year‐over‐year median sign‐on bonus increase of 400%.

“Do carriers who use them hire drivers who are most likely to be high turnover candidates in their new fleets? The answer is yes; they do have turnover at a higher rate than fleet averages,” Klemp added. “However, the saying, ‘any port in a storm’ is a truism and storm clouds are apparent in driver recruiting.”

And with freight demand still growing, it’s storm likely to go on for a while.

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Poll also finds a majority of Democrats favor driverless technology, while Republicans don’t

The death of a pedestrian struck by a self-driving Volvo XC90 sport utility vehicle (SUV) in Arizona last month – an SUV that’s part of a fleet of self-driving cars deployed by Uber in the Copper state – is creating something a “second stage backlash” against autonomous vehicles (AV) technology. I call it “second stage” because the “first stage” occurred almost two years ago when a Tesla Model S in “self-pilot” mode rammed a tractor-trailer, killing the Tesla’s driver.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined that a truck driver’s failure to yield the right of way and the Tesla’s driver’s inattention due to “overreliance on vehicle automation” were the probable cause of that crash back in May 2016, near Williston, FL.

The NTSB also determined the operational design of the Tesla’s vehicle automation permitted “over-reliance” on the automation technology allowing for “prolonged disengagement” from the task of driving a vehicle and also enabled the Tesla’s owner to use the technology in ways “inconsistent” with manufacturer guidance and warnings.

“System safeguards, that should have prevented the Tesla’s driver from using the car’s automation system on certain roadways, were lacking and the combined effects of human error and the lack of sufficient system safeguards resulted in a fatal collision that should not have happened,” noted NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt III in August last year.

Coming back to the present, suspensions of driverless vehicle testing are now starting to pick up speed: first for Uber in Arizona, followed by Toyota and just yesterday for the company that made Uber’s self-driving technology, Nvidia.

But all of this in many ways obscures a deeper issue with driverless technology: many motorists don’t trust it (and this pre-dates the Uber crash, mind you) which is a feeling shared by truckers, too.

Indeed a new survey conducted by Ipsos that polled 21,000 adults across 28 countries about the acceptance of AVs, which autonomous features are most in demand, potential ownership models and regulation options, found that nearly one in four Americans “would never use” a self-driving car vehicle. This is just one key finding from a report about the future of mobility released by Ipsos, a leading global market research firm. Ipsos surveyed more than 21,000 adults across 28 countries about acceptance of AVs, which autonomous features are most in demand, potential ownership models and regulation options.

Conducted as part of its “What the Future” survey series, Ipsos found this “reluctance” by Americans to “embrace this emerging technology” might have to do with their strong “identity” with “car-culture,” for nearly six in 10 considered themselves “car people,” and 81% feel that the car they drive reflects their personality, a least to some degree. Digging deeper into the data, Ipsos found hints of a coming car-culture clash as noticeable divides about acceptance of autonomous vehicles are seen along political lines.

Across a number of topics addressed in the “What the Future” report, the data show that Democrats are more supportive of autonomous vehicles, more interested in their features and benefits and more assured that these vehicles are coming in the near future. According to Ipsos’ polling, 59% of Democrats are in favor of self-driving cars versus 46% of Republicans while independents are split down the middle 50/50.

Clifford Young, president-U.S. for Ipsos Public Affairs, noted that this survey is part of an effort to divine what “big questions” companies should be asking themselves about the future of their industries. Yet despite American technology and automotive companies leading the way in AV development, it turns out Americans (and Canadians, too) are among the most reluctant to use it compared to those in, say, China, who are twice as likely to say they “can’t wait” to use AVs.

“The safety improvements, potential cost-saving, and increased convenience might well prove a trifecta of benefits that can trump any sort of political discord,” Young said in a statement. “But social change on this scale does not happen without conflict, and those who do not plan for it will be the first to see their plans derailed by our age of uncertainty.”

Here are a few other results from Ipsos’ report to think on when it comes to AVs:

  • More would prefer to continue owning their own vehicle (42%) than other proposed usage models including hiring one on a per-use basis (22%) or leasing one for a monthly subscription fee (14%)
  • Many Americans are unsure where regulation should come from, but would prefer manufacturers and tech companies (36%) to self-regulate over government regulation (24%)
  • Cost will be a factor: 24% said they would switch to a self-driving car if it cost the same as their current car, but 45% would switch if it cost much less
  • Many Americans (30%) would take more road trips in self-driving cars, including longer trips and new destinations
  • Globally, a majority of those surveyed say that AVs will be easier, more comfortable safer, more relaxing, more economical, more enjoyable, and friendlier to the environment. Yet few think AVs will be faster
  • Americans are more skeptical of touted benefits including improved safety, comfort and ease-of-use
  • Autonomous parking is the feature respondents are most ready to use, with 58% saying they would utilize autonomous functionality “always or frequently.” Many (47%) would use it for commuting and in stop-and-go traffic, and 52% would use it for long-distance drives
  • Younger Americans (under 35) have more favorable views of self-driving cars and their benefits
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That's why the outcome of NAFTA negotiations is so important to many in the industry.

The ongoing debate over whether to renew or cashier the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) – an issue exacerbated in some ways by tariffs on steel and aluminum imposed by the Trump administration – often obscures the fact that trucking has a lot of stake in terms of whether this pact survives or not.

Bob Costello, chief economist for the American Trucking Associations (ATA) and the trade group’s representative at the NAFTA negotiations, noted recently that his largely positive outlook for the industry is “threatened” if the U.S. withdraws from the agreement, which is something the Trump administration has threatened to do, but which he thinks could be a “negotiating” tactic.

“I’m slightly optimistic that this [a pull out] is being floated as a negotiating tactic,” he explained. “With the Mexican presidential election in July and our mid-term [Congressional] elections in November, the odds of making a deal by this point are long.”

If Trump were to truly initiate a NAFTA pull out, that would occur in late March/early April and would activate a six-month clock for dissolution of the trade deal. But Costello does not see that scenario developing quite yet. “It might be a ploy to get a deal done within that six months, but that would be a really big gamble. And suffice to say this is a really big deal for trucking: cross-border truck-traffic generates $6.5 billion a year for U.S. truckers. [That trade] is critical to the trucking industry.”

Yet despite the uncertainty swirling around what many are calling “protectionist trade policies,” business leaders as a whole in the U.S., Canada and Mexico are maintaining a “positive outlook” for NAFTA, according to a newly released report compiled by HSBC Commercial Banking dubbed HSBC Navigator: Now, next and how for business.

Even though more than 60% of business leaders across North America polled as part of this report believe governments are increasingly taking a “protectionist” stance of raising trade barriers to defend domestic businesses, nearly half of them (U.S. 49%; Canada 52%; Mexico 53%) expect the impact of NAFTA to be “positive” over the next two years.

“In spite of the threat of new trade barriers, we expect growth in cross-border business to continue, especially among our North American neighbors. We’re seeing a lot of optimism from U.S. clients right now stemming from factors like deregulation, lower taxes, a somewhat weaker U.S. dollar, climbing energy prices and a rise in global economic development,” noted Wyatt Crowell, head of commercial banking for HSBC USA, in a statement.

HSBC surveyed 6,000 international firms around the world for its report and found that more than three in four (77%) are optimistic about their international prospects, notwithstanding the worldwide concern among almost two-thirds of global businesses (61%) that governments are becoming protective of their domestic economies.

According to the survey, less than one in ten (9%) U.S. businesses expect NAFTA to inhibit growth – a smaller share of firms with negative views of NAFTA than in Mexico (16%) and Canada (13%).

In fact, the survey found that North American firms were more positive about NAFTA than agreements with trading partners farther from home. For example, a smaller share of Mexican firms (43%) expected a positive impact from the Pacific Alliance – a trade block comprising Mexico, Peru, Colombia and Chile – than from NAFTA (53%). Similarly, Canadian firms saw less growth opportunity from CETA (43%) and CPTPP (39%) than from NAFTA (52%).

“NAFTA has significantly benefitted Canada, Mexico and the U.S.,” added Linda Seymour, head of commercial banking for HSBC Bank Canada. “It has facilitated increased trade, improved customer choice, allowed for the provision of more services and has fostered growth and greater co-operation among government policy makers and businesses in all three countries.”

Firms in all three countries remain upbeat about doing more business abroad, with Mexico leading the way with 87% of firms surveyed expecting increased trade volume over the next 12 months, compared to 77% of U.S. firms and 70% of Canadian firms.

“NAFTA has become a $1.2 trillion corridor for continental trade and investment, and represents a good opportunity to business in the three countries to grow and expand, noted Juan Marotta, head of commercial banking for HSBC Latin America and Mexico. “HSBC has a major presence in each NAFTA country, making us ideally placed to connect businesses to opportunities across North America, as well as around the world.”

In all three North American countries, surveyed businesses rank NAFTA partners as their top two most important target markets for expansion.

  • U.S. firms identify Canada (20%), Mexico (19%) and Japan (11%) as their primary markets for expansion;
  • Mexican firms are focused on expansion in the U.S. (39%), Canada (27%) and Argentina (10%);
  • Canadian firms see opportunity in the U.S. (36%), Mexico (18%) and China (14%)

Other key survey findings from businesses in the U.S. include:

  • In light of an overall “upbeat” trade outlook, just over half (52%) of the U.S. businesses surveyed expect to need more trade finance over the next 12 months. A similar proportion (49%) think their access to trade finance will improve.
  • As the world’s leader in service exports, the U.S. accounts for an estimated 15% of total international services trade, with business-to-business services dominating the sector.
  • Over a third (35%) of respondents think technology use stimulates growth in services trade. After entering new markets—the number one strategy for increasing service trade, cited by a third of respondents—e-commerce is the second most popular approach.
  • More than three-quarters (77%) of U.S. firms said easier access to data creates a more level playing field in international business, while about two-thirds (68%) believe data regulation would impede cross-border service delivery.

Just some information truckers should keep in mind as NAFTA negotiations push forward.

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But sleepiness poses a lot of risks, especially to transportation workers.

I’ve slept in a sleeper berth a time or two and it’s something that takes getting used to for most folks; even for long-haul irregular route TL drivers who live in their trucks three weeks or more out of a month.

There are external noises to deal with, the often-constant rattle and hum from diesel-fired auxiliary power units (APUs) or idling engines, and the effort to get physically comfortable on a mattress that’s mayhap not as comfy as the one back home.

Thus getting good, restorative sleep for truck drivers can sometimes be a struggle, and that’s before we inject medical issues such as sleep apnea in to the mix. But truckers should take heart from one aspect of their “sleep struggles,” if you can call them that – they aren’t unique to the freight-hauling business, not be a longshot.

According to a recent global survey conducted by Royal Philips called Better Sleep, Better Health. A Global Look at Why We're Still Falling Short on Sleep, which looked at what keeps people from getting their “optimal” night's rest.

The survey – conducted online in February by Harris Poll on behalf of Philips – reviewed the “sleep habits” of over 15,000 adults across 13 countries – the U.S., the U.K., Germany, Poland, France, India, China, Australia, Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, Brazil and Japan – examining how they prioritize, address, and perceive a range of “sleep issues.”

Philips said several studies estimate that more than 100 million people worldwide suffer from sleep apnea, 80 % of whom remain undiagnosed, and that, globally, 30% of people experience difficulty in initiating and maintaining sleep. Sleeping well is essential to good health, and yet only one-third of people who suffer from sleep disorders seek professional help, the company noted.

"Sleep is the cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle. On a day-to-day basis, how well and how long we slept the night before is the single most important variable dictating how we feel," said Dr. David White, chief medical for Philips. "Thus inadequate sleep can have an immediate impact on our wellbeing unlike exercise or diet. This survey shows that despite knowing sleep is important to overall health, people are still struggling to address it in the same way they would exercise or nutrition. The more we understand how sleep impacts everything we do, the better we can adjust our lifestyle and find solutions that help us get better sleep."

The findings from that research should be of interest to truckers:

  • Though the survey found that the majority of those polled (67%) view sleep’s impact on their overall health and well-being to be “significant,” only 29% felt “guilty” about not getting enough sleep, in comparison to the guilt over not exercising regularly (49%) and eating healthier foods (42%)
  • About six in 10 global adults (61%) have some kind of medical issue that impacts their sleep, with a quarter of adults reporting insomnia (26%) and one in five experiencing snoring (21%). Worrying has kept over half of global adults up at night in the past 3 months (58%), followed by technology distractions (26%).
  • After a bad night’s sleep, those polled said they “look tired” (46%), are “moody/irritable” (41%), aren’t as “motivated” (39%), or they have trouble concentrating (39%).
  • Three-quarters of those polled (77%) have tried to improve their sleep in some way. Collectively, many have turned to soothing music (36%) or instituted a set bedtime/wake-up schedule (32%).
  • Throughout the global results, one outlier presented itself in adults aged 18 to 24; the so called “Millennial” generation. Despite being less likely to follow a set bedtime compared to other generations (38% vs. 47% of those aged 25 and over), this group reported getting more sleep each night, on average, than other age groups, with those aged 18-24 getting an average of 7.2 hours, compared to 6.9 hours among those aged 25 and over. They are also more likely to feel guilty about not regularly maintaining good sleep habits as compared to those ages 35 and over (35% vs. 26%).

Now while all of that may sound a bit too “touchy-feely” for many truckers, the impact of sleep deprivation is anything but. In fact, chronic sleep-deprivation, which affects 37% of U.S. workers, is getting so bad that the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Sleep Research Society (SRS) and the National Safety Council (NSC) have joined forces in a campaign to get companies to help their workers avoid fatigue and develop healthy sleep habits for long-term success and well-being.

“Nearly 70 million Americans suffer from a sleep problem and nearly 60% of them have a chronic disease that can harm their overall health,” said Janet Croft, the senior chronic disease epidemiologist in CDC’s division of population health. “Lack of sleep and sleep disorders, including stops in breathing during sleep (sleep apnea), excessive daytime sleepiness (narcolepsy), restless legs syndrome, and insomnia, are increasingly recognized as linked to chronic disease, including obesity, high blood pressure, and cancer.”

And such chronic fatigue is costly in other ways. According to the NSC, fatigued workers cost employers about $1,200 to $3,100 per employee in declining job performance each year, while sleepy workers are estimated to cost employers $136 billion a year in health-related lost productivity.

Sleepiness also impacts transportation in major ways. For example, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) estimates that fatigue has been a contributing factor in 20% of its investigations over the last two decades – and it’s why the agency included “reduce fatigue-related accidents” on its 2017–2018 Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements.  

In February, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released a research brief estimating that drowsy driving is involved in up to 9.5% of all motor vehicle crashes. Their projections indicate that drowsy driving causes an average of 328,000 motor vehicle accidents in the U.S. each year, including 6,400 fatal crashes.

On top of all that, the effects of sleepiness are exacerbated and pose a constant struggle for workers who work night shifts or rotating shifts, and for those who work long hours or have an early morning start time.

U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics show about 15% of full-time employees in the U.S. perform shift work, many of whom suffer from chronic sleep loss caused by a disruption in the body’s circadian rhythm.

Chronic sleep deprivation is also associated with an increased risk of depression, obesity, cardiovascular disease and other illnesses that negatively impact a worker’s well-being and long-term health, according to the CDC’s research – and insufficient sleep is a big problem in transportation-related categories, the agency added.

In fact, a recent CDC analysis found that the jobs with the highest rates of short sleep duration were communications equipment operators (58.2%), other transportation workers (54%) and rail transportation workers (52.7%).

Along with that, night shift workers and those driving during nighttime hours are most at risk for chronic sleep loss. The NSC found that 59% of night shift workers reported short sleep duration compared to 45% of day workers, while the risk of safety incidents was 30% higher during night shifts compared to morning shifts.

All of that is good fodder for trucking to keep in mind as the industry attempts to handle a surge in freight demand that’s expected to keep on rolling through this year and next.

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