By James Murphy
Locomation’s Vice President of Government Affairs
When I got my Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) 20 years ago, the first truck I drove regularly was an old Ford AeroMax L9000 tractor. It had no air ride suspension or air conditioning and kicked like a mule over every bump. Like that old Ford AeroMax, truck drivers are tough. They shoulder a huge burden to make sure our shelves are stocked, our pantries are full, and we have the goods we need to carry on our everyday lives. At Locomation, we are passionate about improving driver quality of life by raising driver efficiency, eliminating waiting, overnight stays and idling, and getting drivers back to their home base every 24 hours.
The Driver Shortage is Getting Worse – And It’s Not All About the Money
For a long time, it was thought that the biggest reason for the high rate of turnover among truck drivers was low wages. However, recent industry trends have seen wages in the long-haul segment increase with little to no impact. Even with substantial wage increases and signing bonuses, many drivers have moved from working for “mega” long-haul carriers to smaller carriers, and some have become owner-operators. According to experts, more drivers are moving away from long-haul trucking altogether in favor of short-haul routes that greatly increase their at-home time.
The growing shortage of 80,000 drivers is expected to balloon to 160,000 by 2028, and has been the top issue facing the sector for the last five years. To keep up with attrition, fill the current and projected driver shortage, and increased capacity demands, 1 million new drivers are needed.
Truckers Are Facing a Health Crisis
One of the reasons for this mass exodus is the physical and mental toll of truck driving and how it disproportionately impacts drivers’ minds and bodies. For example, 360,000 CDL drivers are currently medically excluded from operating a truck, half of whom suffer from high blood pressure, nearly 10% of the entire truck driving workforce in the United States. There is another 45% to 55% of drivers who have been issued a medical card that is only good for one year or less, due to health issues. A 2019 study by the National Library of Medicine found that 47.7% of drivers self-reported having a past diagnosis of hypertension or prehypertension and, among those with a prior diagnosis, 62.1% were taking blood pressure medications. What’s even more shocking is that the rate of depression is nine times greater (13.6%) in truck drivers than the rest of the population (1.5%). According to an article in Smart Trucking, the leading cause for such high numbers of depression among truckers is too much alone time on the road, away from family and friends.
Addressing the pain points that have plagued trucking for years is a monumental undertaking. As recent trends have demonstrated, attracting and retaining long haul truck drivers isn’t just an issue of pay. So why not support a model that partially automates the toughest segments of truck driving (long-haul) and provides increased opportunities in the more desirable segments (short-haul)?
This is where the Locomation solution comes in.
First, we transform how our customers run their trucks using a 500-mile relay model that splits out the long haul from local drivers, combined with a freight planning service and scheduling technology. Long-haul drivers would operate from middle-mile hubs, avoiding high density traffic and pickup wait times. Local driving opportunities would multiply. Carriers will be able to run their trucks substantially longer per day, with sizable gains to efficiency and profitability.
Second, we introduce our Autonomous Relay ConvoySM (ARC) technology, featuring human-led, two-truck linked convoys with two drivers. The trucks are electronically tethered and equipped with Locomation’s autonomous driving technology. The lead driver operates the lead truck and drives a full shift in one direction while the second driver rests, off the clock, in the second truck, which follows autonomously. At the destination hub they drop their trailers and pick up new ones, with the rested driver now taking the lead driving both loads back while the follower driver sleeps, replenishing his available Hours of Service during the return leg.
In less than 24 hours, Locomation-equipped carriers will have delivered four loads and be back at their home hub, potentially ready to go again. In this timeframe, these two drivers have delivered twice the number of loads as a pair of team drivers and four times the number of loads as a solo driver. This means a doubling of capacity, and an estimated profitability increase of three to four fold per mile.
What Does It Mean?
Increasingly, truck drivers are prioritizing their mental and physical health, their desire to be home more, and a better quality of life by working short haul and regional/ day routes. Our solution means a driver’s time will be used for maximum efficiency and compensated accordingly, meaning they earn more and can work fewer hours. It also means they will be routinely returning to their home base, allowing them to spend more time with their families and communities which is a major boost to the driver’s quality of life with potential physical and mental health improvements.
Locomation’s model not only addresses pain points that have plagued the industry for years but also addresses many of the negative issues for truck drivers. In an industry that prides itself on choice, independence, and freedom, Locomation is offering a win-win for carriers to cut costs and increase capacity while improving life for drivers. Locomation is establish a role for truck drivers in the autonomous truck equation that will improve their physical, mental, and financial well-being.