Truck drivers face challenges, and research is here to help

The challenges for truck drivers are immense. Now, with fluctuations in the supply chain and dramatic increases in e-commerce due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, TRB is recognizing National Truck Drivers Appreciation Week with a compendium of resources for the industry.

TRB’s April 8 webinar on supply chains and COVID-19 addressed major changes in freight flows and the current challenges in delivering products, particularly medical supplies and food. Presenters covered established spectrums of disruption and impact models based on geography and industry, for sea, road, rail, and air transportation.

Daniel Haake, Senior Transportation Planner at HDR and Chair of TRB’s Standing Committee on Trucking Industry Research, says that the committee is in the beginning stages of updating TRB’s 2010 e-circular Trucking 101: An Industry Primer, which gives stakeholders an insider’s understanding of the basic issues facing the industry.

A little parking can be a big problem
If you’ve ever circled a block or lot looking for parking, you know it tries your patience. Imagine the added frustration of losing pay or a much-needed break as you wait for a space to open up. Facility overcrowding is challenging to truck drivers and fleet managers. An article published in Transportation Research Record (TRR) finds that information on parking availability patterns at facilities of different types can allow for more efficient scheduling and routing needed to produce more accurate estimated arrival times and billable miles.

Freight Waves reported on a panel discussion at the 2020 TRB Annual Meeting focused on the high demand for truck parking. Speakers noted that a significant number of drivers regularly shut down operations early to find parking, even at the expense of personal wage earnings.

Health, wellness, and safety issues for truckers
Commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers work and live with occupational pressures that adversely affect health. Insufficient sleep can decrease a CMV driver’s level of alertness, which may increase the risk of a crash, yet little is known about effective ways to minimize that risk, according to TRB’s Commercial Motor Vehicle Driver Fatigue, Long-Term Health, and Highway Safety: Research Needs. Research on the connection between hours of service, fatigue, and accident frequency for CMV operators is complicated by the difficulty of measuring driver fatigue objectively, the invasive nature of capturing measures of the amount and quality of drivers’ sleep, and many factors contributing to crashes that are unrelated to lack of sleep.

In 2010, TRB convened a conference on the health and wellness of commercial truck and bus drivers as an opportunity to explore related medical issues, behavioral issues, union perspectives, and technology issues.

A TRB Commercial Truck and Bus Safety Synthesis Program’s (CTBSSP) 2007 report, Health and Wellness Programs for Commercial Drivers, examines the association between crash causation and functional impairments, elements of employee health and wellness programs that could be applied to commercial drivers, and existing trucking and motor coach employee health and wellness programs.

Comprehensive health and wellness programs are only part of the picture. Focusing on small details, one study produced under TRB’s Highway IDEA program explored different seat designs for CMV drivers and found that air-inflated cushions offer advantageous comfort and support and reduce issues with fatigue.

Other IDEA programs delved into the technical capabilities needed to provide feedback about driver conditions, which contribute to most CMV crashes in the U.S., through a system called DRIVE-SMART. Similarly,another Safety IDEA program showed the feasibility of developing a non-contact sensing platform to monitor drivers’ physiological signals for the on-set and extent of drowsiness.

The latest and next-generation challenges
Like all careers, truck driving is changing with the speed of society and technology. The Mineta Transportation Institute released a paper this summer addressing the concerns about a possible driver shortage. Authors interviewed stakeholders and gathered information from relevant sessions at the 2020 TRB Annual Meeting to determine that the perceived shortage may actually be a capacity issue due to drivers leaving one company for another.

“The challenges of finding qualified drivers are greatest for long-haul companies whose drivers face truck parking shortages, work/life balance challenges, and eventually sedentary health issues,” says Haake. “Companies that get you home every night traditionally see lower turnover.”

The Mineta report also noted that with new technology comes the need for new workforce training opportunities, but that trucking automation and platooning are far on the horizon and will not affect the demand for truck drivers.

While they are not expected to cause immediate changes, connected (CV) and automated vehicles (AV) are expected to be a factor down the road. The TRB National Cooperative Highway Research Program’s Challenges to CV and AV Applications in Truck Freight Operations identifies existing and emerging freight regulatory, planning, policy, and operational environments and challenges for these truck technologies. The report examines barriers and opportunities that the public and private sector may face when implementing these technologies in freight operations. In addition, the report explores next steps for addressing the challenges for deployment and adoption.

Collaborate with TRB as a driving force behind driver research
In 2021, TRB will look deeper into the issues that matter to this industry with two conferences. In the spring, Measuring and Managing Freight System Resilience will shine a light on costs and consequences of freight network disruptions at the local and national levels. Next fall, 2021 Innovations in Freight Data will bring together freight data users and decision makers to focus on the latest applications of traditional and emerging freight data sources, development of value-added features, integration of data sets, and other innovations. Join us at either or both of these groundbreaking events.

You can also take part in the TRB research around factors facing CMV drivers by becoming a friend of TRB’s Standing Committee on Trucking Industry Researchor Standing Committee on Truck and Bus Safety. Friends of committees receive updates on and can volunteer to participate in committee activities.

Get involved in this work with the Cooperative Research Programs. Look for ongoing information on new projects, requests for proposals, or to nominate yourself or others to serve on a project panel. Submit problem statement research ideas and find new announcements in TRB’s weekly newsletter or on the homepages for the Airport Cooperative Research Program, NCHRP, and the Transit Cooperative Research Program. Play a role in honoring this industry this week and year-round.

Reports published by TRB cited in this article:

Articles published in Transportation Research Record cited:

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Beth Ewoldsen, Content Strategist
Transportation Research Board
202-334-2353; [email protected]
Published September 13, 2020

This Summary Last Modified On: 9/14/2020

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