The Top 10 list of our best-read posts is fun, but it’s purely numbers-based, calculated by some algorithm, and doesn’t always tell the complete story. For instance, sometimes a particular story will get picked up elsewhere and circulated outside of our normal readership sphere, inflating its numbers.
Other times, as with the snow sock story, a debate will unfold within the comments section, bringing the same handful of readers back over and over again to stay up to date on the discussion. I’m going to take the algorithms out of the equation here and share with you my personal top three trucking stories of 2015:
#3: The commodities slump
It’s more than a slump now, isn’t it? Oil prices are mired at their lowest levels in over a decade and many reports have them staying there for another year or more. While this should result in relief at the pump, diesel prices haven’t come down in Canada to the same extent as they have in the US.
BMO came out with a report that says gas prices should be much lower than they are, given the current price of crude. So this means our economy isn’t reaping the benefits of low oil prices – we’re just feeling the pain.
The lack of drilling activity in Western Canada means less business for oilfield services providers such as Mullen Group but it goes much deeper than that. Even carriers hauling general freight into Western Canada are feeling the effect.
And the lack of freight in Alberta has sent companies domiciled there spreading their wings further abroad into neighbouring provinces, putting added pressure on rates right across Western Canada.
This report from Scotia Economics suggests low oil prices are here to stay through 2016 and even into 2017, so this is a story that looks primed to continue and will reach far beyond Alberta.
#2: ELDs will soon be required
It has been a long time coming but the US has finally finalized a rule that will require the use of electronic logging devices on trucks of a 2000 model year vintage and newer. Not surprisingly, the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) is suing FMCSA over the new legislation and it has had some success in doing this in the past, primarily on the basis that requiring ELDs could cause employers to coerce drivers into maximizing all their allowable driving hours – even if tired.
But a new law introduced by FMCSA, which would outlaw coercion of drivers by shippers and carriers, should put an end to that argument.
Canada’s former Transport Minister Lisa Raitt was a proponent of ELDs and at one time looked poised to introduce a Canadian mandate even before the US law was published. That never came to be and now we have a new government in place here, so it remains to be seen when, or if, Canada will follow suit.
Nonetheless, this new requirement will affect Canadian carriers operating in the US and could even have an impact on capacity. Industry analyst Larry Gross of FTR tweeted “Since many truckers not yet converted are today running excess hours, capacity effect will be notable and permanent.”
Think about that for a second. FTR contends there are enough carriers who still rely on running illegally to stay in business that their removal from the marketplace will be noticed in the form of decreased capacity. If that’s true, it’s hard to argue that a mandate requiring ELDs isn’t required.
#1: The arrival of autonomous trucks
Don’t misinterpret the absence of our autonomous truck coverage from the most well-read story list. We posted so many stories on the emergence of autonomous truck technology that if you add them all up, it was by far the most widely read topic of the year.
Of course Daimler brought this issue to the forefront with the launch of the Freightliner Inspiration Truck, which it unveiled to the world in stunning fashion at an event on the Hoover Dam. This wasn’t just some futuristic novelty that was on display, however, it was the culmination of many currently available safety systems that when fully integrated created the Highway Pilot autonomous assist platform. Nevada became the first jurisdiction in North America to grant a licence to operate autonomously driven trucks on its highways.
The unveiling took place in May and in September, I, along with a handful of my peers in the trucking press, were invited back to Las Vegas to drive the Inspiration Truck on public roads and to receive our autonomous driving certificate. (Yes, I’m aware there’s some irony at work here, in that you require a special certificate to operate a vehicle that can effectively drive itself).
Many barriers to the adoption of autonomous trucks remain, both regulatory and societal, but the technology is very much nearing prime time readiness. It will be some time before we see autonomously driven trucks on North American highways but Daimler this year significantly advanced the technology – and the discussion – and so we are not out of line to begin imagining the possibilities automation will bring to the industry. Here’s my first-hand account of driving an autonomous truck.
James Menzies removes his hands from the wheel while in Highway Pilot mode.