Jan 31, 2024

How Technology is Transforming the Trucking Industry and the Concerns of Truck Drivers

The modern trucking industry, transportation industry or the trucking business has long been a vital component of the global economy, responsible for transporting goods and products to various parts of the world. However, with the advanced technology, the trucking industry is undergoing significant transformations that are changing the way goods are transported.

From automated trucks to artificial intelligence systems, truck technology is revolutionizing the trucking industry in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago. While these advancements bring many benefits, they also raise concerns among fleet operators or truck drivers, who fear that they may be replaced by technology.

In this article, we will delve into the various ways in which technology is transforming the trucking industry and the concerns of truck drivers.

We will explore the potential impact of key technology on the industry and how it is reshaping the roles of truck drivers. Additionally, we will discuss the challenges and opportunities that this evolution presents to truck drivers and the industry as a whole.

With the rapid pace of technological advancements, it is crucial to understand the basic level or the changes taking place in the trucking industry and how they may affect the customer preference, customer experience, customer satisfaction and the livelihoods of those who work within it.

One Of The Fortunate Individuals

Mike Nichols, a truck driver residing in Wisconsin, is one of the fortunate individuals in his profession. Unlike the majority of America's 2.2 million truck drivers, Nichols does not waste valuable hours or idle time each week waiting to load or unload his cargo.

Nichols expressed his satisfaction, stating, "My clients and their customers are genuinely pleased to see me." Instead of hauling trailers packed with Amazon orders, groceries, or furniture, Nichols primarily transports agricultural loads. The contrasting treatment between bulk carriers like himself and those handling outbound box trailers is astonishing.

Detention time, an unfamiliar concept to those outside the trucking industry, is an exasperating aspect of being a human driver or truck driver. According to data from FreightWaves SONAR, truck drivers spend an average of 119 minutes per freight deliveries, pickup or drop-off waiting to be loaded or unloaded.

During the first two hours of detention, experienced drivers are expected to wait without compensation, and only receive hourly pay for any additional time.

This system is undeniably inefficient. A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Transportation's Office of Inspector General in 2018 revealed that truck drivers lose a staggering $1.1 billion to $1.3 billion in earnings due to detention time. Furthermore, for each 15-minute increase in detention, the average anticipated crash rate rises by 6.2%. Detention not only frustrates drivers but also poses potential dangers.

Isaias Sanchez, a truck driver based in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, highlighted the safety implications of this issue. "This becomes a safety concern," he said. "Truckers are constantly in a rush to get back on the road, and that can lead to accidents."

The Primary Factors

In order to gain further insights, I engaged in conversations with two experienced professionals from the food and beverage industry, namely Rob Haddock and Ben Richey. These individuals were frequently contacted by truck drivers who were perplexed as to why they faced delays in exiting warehouses. Upon analysis, it became evident that the primary factors contributing to this predicament can be summarized as follows:

  1. Insufficient labor force within warehouses.
  2. Obsolete infrastructure and technologies prevalent in warehouses.
  3. Lack of proactive measures taken by prominent companies to tackle these challenges.

By collaborating with these experts, I endeavored to delve deeper into this matter and shed light on the underlying causes affecting the efficiency of warehouse operations in the food and beverage sector.

Warehouses Need To Hire More Workers

One of the primary reasons for the prolonged process of loading and unloading truck drivers, as pointed out by Richey, is the glaring shortage of drivers or the driver shortage of warehouse workers. This predicament has been exacerbated during the early 2020s, when companies faced significant challenges in recruiting suitable candidates.

Consequently, wages in the warehousing sector have been on the rise. According to federal data, approximately 1.8 million individuals are employed in this industry.

As of November 2023, the most recent period for which data is available, warehouse workers and management earned an average hourly wage of just under $24. This represents an increase of $1.50 per hour compared to the previous year and a $4 increase compared to five years ago.

It is worth noting that this wage is higher than what is typically offered in most blue-collar or service occupations, as reported by Business Insider.

Nevertheless, despite these comparatively attractive wages, warehouses continue to struggle with staffing issues. This can partly be attributed to the strenuous nature of warehouse work, which entails unpredictable schedules, demanding productivity targets, and a higher risk of workplace injuries.

Richey emphasized that the prevailing trend within the industry is a persistent challenge in filling vacant positions and an inability to keep up with the pace of work.

Antiquated Warehouses Are No Match For The Modern Shopper

There exist two widely employed methods for loading a truck:

  • The first method, known as drop-and-hook, entails the driver simply unhooking the trailer or connecting to a new one. In this system, drivers can efficiently navigate a warehouse in approximately 30 minutes. The loading and unloading of the trailer are effectively managed by warehouse workers, eliminating the need for the driver's presence.
  • Conversely, the second method, referred to as live load, involves the driver waiting while their truck is being loaded or unloaded. This process typically takes around three hours, primarily due to the dependency on workers' availability to carry out the task.

The adoption of drop-and-hook practices is increasingly prevalent, although it presents a challenge in terms of space requirements. This poses a problem for well-established brands that have their warehouses and distribution centers located in areas where expansion is not possible, according to Haddock.

He estimates that the warehouses of most long-standing brands are between 50 to 70 years old.

Since then, the U.S. consumer base has significantly grown, along with the number of stock-keeping units (SKUs) that each company sells. This proliferation of SKUs, as industry insiders refer to it, has become quite uncontrollable.

While brands discontinue a certain number of SKUs each year, many more continue to join the market. Some products may not be particularly popular, but retailers may feel obliged to keep them available to cater to specific regional groups of consumers.

Consumer packaged goods companies also offer their products in various sizes, such as a six-pack of gum or a larger portion of the same product. "As American consumers, we are likely incredibly privileged," remarks Haddock.

While this consumerist indulgence is advantageous for the average grocery shopper, it can complicate supply chains. "Depending on the age of the manufacturing plants, their facilities were originally designed to handle a limited number of offerings," explains Haddock.

"Now, these facilities are overwhelmed by the complexity and volume of products."

Big Brands Are Not Falling All Over Themselves To Address Either Issue

Extended periods of detention for truck drivers can often be attributed to company cultures that do not prioritize efficient logistics. According to industry experts, when the logistics department requests funding for improvements, they often have to compete with other departments within the organization.

In cases where funds are limited, priority is given to departments that can present a more compelling case for why the investment is necessary. For example, the sales team may argue that additional funding for marketing could result in selling more cases, while manufacturing may claim that more funds could lead to increased production.

On the other hand, the logistics department may propose that investing in warehouse efficiency could be beneficial, although it may require taking a leap of faith.

Crucial For Addressing

Effective management at the ground level is also crucial for addressing detention time issues. Supervisors need to engage in thorough planning, ensuring that trucks are properly loaded or inventory is staged to accommodate the next day's operations.

This level of attention to detail can be achieved when there is strong leadership that genuinely cares about logistics.

One reason why shippers tend to consume truckers' real time is because the first two hours of detention are typically free. Retailers often take advantage of this, utilizing every minute available. However, there are consequences to this approach.

Trucking companies are less likely to work with facilities known for causing delays, leading to higher operating costs for these notorious facilities. In addition, they may be required to pay detention time fees, which can amount to $25 to $100 per hour or more.

Ultimately, retailers end up paying for detention time whether it occurs or not. They either invest in upgrading their facilities to expedite truckers' departures or incur extra charges from carriers. Experts argue that updating warehouses would be the most logical solution.

Embedded In The Final Cost Of Goods

However, it is the consumer who bears the brunt of these cost savings. Detention time expenses are typically embedded in the final cost of goods, resulting in higher prices for consumers and contributing to inflation.

David Summitt, the president of a medium-sized trucking company, actively avoids facilities that involve live loads or unloads during the bidding process for new contracts. Nevertheless, with hundreds of thousands of small trucking companies in the industry, it is unlikely that detention time will ever be completely resolved.

According to Summitt, unless there are government-mandated regulations for shippers and carriers to follow, the situation is unlikely to improve significantly.

In Conclusion

As autonomous vehicle technology continues to rapidly advance, it is inevitable that the trucking industry will also undergo significant changes. While there are concerns about the potential job displacement for truck drivers, it is important to recognize the positive impact that innovative technology can have on the industry as a whole.

From improving driver safety, optimal route, efficient route and the operational efficiency to reducing carbon emissions, the implementation of new technologies has the potential to create a better and more informed decisions, a sustainable future and the road safety for the trucking industry. As we navigate through these changes, it is crucial to prioritize the well-being and concerns of truck drivers in terms of driver comfort, driver behavior, driver performance, driver fatigue and ensure that they are equipped with the effective solution, necessary skills and support to adapt to the evolving landscape.

With collaboration, effective solution and innovation, we can work towards a more technologically advanced and driver-centric trucking industry.

If you want to stay updated with a wide range of trends, actionable insights, and innovative solutions in the trucking, freight, and logistics industry, stay connected to us.

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