From its inception more than a century ago, the trucking industry has been a significant “silent partner” to American businesses. Today, more than seventy percent of everything consumers will purchase off retail shelves and 100 percent of all online purchases are delivered by commercial trucks.
The industry employs more than 800,000 drivers and more than 3 million other workers are responsible for generating in excess of $650 billion in annual revenues.
Focus of Governments
The pandemic helped focus a spotlight on the vital role of truckers and trucking firms. However, local, state, and federal governments have long given a great deal of attention to the regulation and control of many aspects of the trucking industry. That is increasingly the case today.
This regulatory and legal focus on trucking is driven by the potential source of revenue in taxes and fees, the issue of road safety, and the huge investment in the nation’s infrastructure of roads and bridges.
The current economic and political climate in the United States has intensified this focus and will make 2023 a year of additional legislation and rules. For example, the current administration has identified roadway safety as a key point of emphasis. The national watchdog of the industry, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, is itself under scrutiny from both parties. Thus, the FCSMA is more active in pursuing a growing list of new initiatives and regulations.
We have monitored here how changing technology, a massive expenditure on road and bridge infrastructure, concerns over climate change, questions over trucker employment status, and safety issues are increasingly being addressed at all levels of government. It now appears the coming year will see movement in virtually all these areas affecting the trucking industry.
Seeking a Balance
The key to a rational approach to any new regulations, laws, and oversight initiatives lies in the ability of the industry and the politicians to weigh the many pros and cons in each area of concern. As one contentious issue demonstrates, the use of speed limiters in seeking the goal of safer roads cannot be implemented without considering the many unintended consequences of such policies.
Trucking industry firms, as well as independent owner-operators, have always acknowledged the role of these governments in helping to ensure safe and responsible operations. However, the political parties and regulatory bodies have frequently struggled to find the proper balance of regulating while avoiding the strangulation of this vital national service.
That struggle will heat up this year with the Republicans in charge of the House and the White House, federal agencies, and states all seeking to achieve certain key objectives. These include:
- The way the mandates and funding for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act are implemented. Tens of billions of dollars are flowing and will be provided over the coming years to fund the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure program, the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) initiative, and other aspects of this massive piece of legislation. The impact of the control of these purse strings is already being felt in a variety of new rules and requirements.
- New initiatives that focus on electrification and automation of Class 6, 7, and 8 vehicles, in addition to NEVI.
- Worker classification issues were brought front and center with the recently enacted AB5 legislation in California. The recent lifting of an injunction delaying the implementation of that law will encourage other states to consider this issue of major concern to many truckers.
- The control of heavy-duty diesel NOx emissions will be the focus of much debate and controversy this year after the EPA announced its final rule on that topic just before the end of 2022. Other initiatives are expected as part of the EPA’s much-hyped Clean Trucks Plan.
Various other proposals and bills are being introduced nationwide at the state level involving a range of trucking issues. This year may well be a pivotal time when the ongoing efforts to modernize and fundamentally change the trucking industry begin to take full effect.