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Coronavirus Reminds America that Truck Drivers are Essential Every Day

truck drivers

Coronavirus Reminds America that Truck Drivers are Essential Every Day

Life on the road feels a little more lonely these days. Just ask Harold Simmons.

A truck driver for LS Wilson Trucking out of Utah, Simmons is afraid to go home because he doesn’t want to risk bringing the coronavirus with him. His wife has had pneumonia, and he wants to protect her.

At truck stops, he is eating alone more often because of social distancing practices in force at restaurants. No more small talk with a driver sitting next to him at the counter.

So it was a nice change of pace when he recently pulled into a rest area off the highway, and a group of strangers were in the parking lot handing out free food to truck drivers. “People, in general, are showing us their appreciation,” Simmons said. “Even shippers and receivers are finally treating us like human beings again.”

In our newfound appreciation for essential workers in the global pandemic, it’s heartening to see the support for our truck drivers. Social media is filled with posts marked with the #ThankATrucker hashtag.

Truck drivers have always been essential employees, hauling freight across the country, away from their families and the comforts of home. They have been easy to ignore because they toil behind the scenes. Most Americans never interact with them, unlike our doctors, nurses, pharmacists, supermarket cashiers and restaurant delivery drivers.

But what’s left of our economy would not be standing without the tireless dedication of professional drivers. They are the essential link in our supply chain. Despite health risks, they are hauling consumer goods to ensure retailers can keep their shelves stocked. They are delivering personal protective equipment and other supplies to hospitals when they often don’t have their own PPE. They are driving into hot zones when others are fleeing.

Truckers are providing critical services even when their own economic well being is at risk. In the early days of the crisis, freight volumes rose as supermarkets restocked their shelves and other essential businesses built inventory to protect against supply chain disruption. However, as shelter in place orders have expanded to cover most of the population, industrial production has contracted, and freight volume has declined sharply.

The reduction in freight volume has squeezed revenues for trucking companies. One widely followed financial measure is the dry van spot rate, which is the amount of money a driver is paid per mile to haul freight within about a day of the shipment. This rate has fallen 20% since the end of March, according to DAT Solutions. There’s no clear sign when rates might rebound, as some states have extended stay-at-home orders until the end of May.

Trucking companies say they are concerned about having enough revenue in the coming months to meet their two biggest sources of fixed costs: insurance and loan or lease payments for trucks and trailers.

This is a big concern because many trucking companies are small businesses, just like the florist or the neighborhood restaurant or the hair salon. Most drivers work in fleets that contain 20 or fewer trucks, according to the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

OOIDA has been lobbying Congress and the Trump Administration to do more for the trucking industry during the pandemic, including providing PPE and testing to truck drivers and targeted economic and regulatory relief for trucking companies.

“They’re facing a real economic crisis to be able to continue to operate, not to mention the fact that they actually are on the front line in the battle against coronavirus,” Todd Spencer, president and chief executive officer of OOIDA, recently said on CNBC.

Preserving our nation’s trucking capacity is critical to our economic recovery post-COVID-19. It is essential that when industrial production rebounds, trucking capacity is not constrained. We cannot allow America’s trucking companies to fail or we jeopardize the broader recovery.


Daniel Burrows is the founder and CEO of XStream Trucking, a design and engineering company for connected hardware for the long-haul trucking industry.

fuel efficiency

The Trucking Industry’s Fuel Efficiency is Still Far Too Low, While Carbon Output is Far Too High

In 2017, the EPA reported that the transportation sector is the leading contributor of carbon emissions in the U.S. A major part of that sector is the $700 billion domestic trucking industry, which spends approximately $105B on diesel fuel annually, according to the American Trucking Association (ATA). To help offset this trend, many logistics and transportation companies have recently launched some level of fuel-saving initiative, aimed at helping to reduce their fuel use and carbon impact.

The trucking industry remains a critical function for the U.S. economy, and that reliance is only set to grow. However, most Class 8 trucks on the road today are only achieving roughly seven miles per gallon (MPG) – which keeps fuel consumption and carbon output unnecessarily high. The adoption of technologies to improve truck aerodynamics for long-haul carriers, along with helping to change fuel-hogging driver behaviors, can help fleets reduce fuel costs significantly while eliminating large amounts of carbon emissions. The industry must move aggressively closer to the long-desired goal of a 10MPG standard.

Innovation in Aerodynamics

Aerodynamic drag of a Class 8 truck accounts for a majority of a truck’s energy loss at highway speeds and results in unnecessary fuel usage. Reducing drag improves fuel efficiency which translates to greater efficiency benefits for the industry overall. So, how do trucking companies get there?

Truck manufacturers offer a variety of models with increased aerodynamic efficiency, and aftermarket providers offer numerous products that are proven to further improve fuel economy. One example from the aftermarket is an active-aero device that automatically closes the tractor-trailer gap on commercial trucks when the vehicle reaches a certain speed (approximately 40 miles per hour) and creates an estimated fuel savings of between four-to-six percent. The product also offers GPS-enabled software that tracks fuel savings information in real-time. Improving aerodynamics would cut annual fuel use of a single truck by up to 860 gallons.

Improving Driver Behavior

Another area worth noting to cut down fuel consumption– reducing the driving speed. According to ATA estimates, an average truck traveling at 75 mph will consume 27% more fuel compared to one going at 65 mph. Additionally, what most people don’t realize is an idle truck can be a massive fuel consumer. Drivers that idle their engines while resting to provide air-conditioning or heat for their sleeper compartments or those that have the habit of keeping their engines warm during cold months are just simple notions that cause major fuel consumption.  Developing better practices to the above will help streamline fuel costs overall.

Beyond systems and behavior that address fuel efficiencies, companies can adopt other innovative ways to address managing fuel consumption such as side skirts or streamlined hoods to help reduce drag.

Opportunity with Data and Analytics

While physical and behavioral solutions can put more control in the hands of fleet managers, data analytics can play a large role as well. Valuable information gained through data/analytics provides a way to obtain greater transparency and visibility into performance. GPS-enabled software can help to validate the fuel savings from each innovation and help ensure it continues forward. These programs can be put in play to help manage efficiencies for the carrier and utilize technologies in ways that benefit the industry overall.

Carbon Reduction and Pushing to 10 MPG

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) experts, freight activity will nearly double by 2040, and global freight transport emissions will exceed passenger vehicle emissions by 2050. As sustainability is becoming a higher priority within the transportation industry, it’s important that carriers understand the benefits of investing in sustainability programs and resources, and how this translates to cutting costs.

Today’s top fleets are leading the sustainability charge. Everyone in the industry is watching what UPS, DHL, and the like-minded industry leaders are doing in regards to innovation adoption for the best fuel-efficiency technology. With trucking predicted to grow more and more each year, improving the fuel efficiency of the industry is critical to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and supporting profit margins in an increasingly regulated industry. According to NACFE’s 2017 Run On Less demonstration, achieving an average fuel efficiency of 10 MPG would save the U.S. trucking industry 9.7 billion gallons of diesel fuel, $24.3 billion and 98 million tons of CO2 each year [ref 1]. While the primary goal is to reduce the environmental impact of the transportation sector, it is successful in large part because it demonstrates financial benefit for industry stakeholders as well.

It’s clear that there is an abundance of challenges when it comes to fuel consumption in the trucking industry. However, the industry can be confident that there is an equal abundance of solutions to help improve fuel efficiency in order to manage costs and reduce carbon output.





Daniel Burrows is the CEO and Founder of XStream Trucking, an engineering company building connected hardware to improve the efficiency of the trucking industry