TOP 10 REVEALED: Top Trucking News Stories of 2019 We’re Still Talking About
Little Rock, AR – 2019 has come to an end, but these ten trucking news stories which came to define the last 365 days will continue to resonate well into the future.
We at Transportation Nation Network (TNN) compiled the top 10 news stories of 2019 based on both reader interest and overall industry impact.
Without further ado, here is our list of the biggest trucking news stories on TransportationNation.com in 2019.
10. CDL Scandals
The nation’s two biggest states, California and Texas, were perhaps the biggest offenders.
Each saw State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) employees convicted in illegal CDL bribery schemes.
For instance, in Texas, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) reportedly discovered a CDL for cash scheme that resulted in more than 200 people, mostly of foreign descent, receiving their CDLs without taking a skills test.
9. Autonomous Acceleration
2019 was a busy year for autonomous truck technology makers.
TuSimple completed a historic test with the United States Postal Service (USPS) in June, and in August announced it was joining forces with UPS.
More big news you will only find fully and accurately reported on TransportationNation.com came in March when the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released an extensive report warning autonomous trucks could displace as many as 900,000 professional truck drivers in as soon as the next decade.
Then in May, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) took further steps to speed the deployment of autonomous vehicles.
Dozens of states including California, Arizona, Nevada, and Texas have passed laws making the testing of autonomous vehicles easier.
In June, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) signed similar legislation allowing for the testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles without a human present.
8. Freight Recession and “Overcapacity Problem” Plague The Industry
2018 was a banner year in the trucking industry, as many carriers reported record profits and many owner operators saw their bottom lines get fatter.
However, it didn’t take long for market analysts to begin urging caution in 2019.
In fact, as winter gave way to spring early last year, analysts were beginning to admit what many already knew, and by summer 2019, analysts officially declared the trucking industry had fallen into a “freight recession.”
Making matters worse was a glut of tractors in the market after record Class 8 sales in 2018.
Further compounding the negative impact was an “oversupply” of drivers.
In the final months of 2019, mega carriers such as Knight-Swift and U.S. Xpress pointed to the “overcapacity problem” to explain why earnings were much weaker than expected.
Industry analysts will be watching the first two quarters of 2020 very closely as some are now predicting capacity will rebalance soon.
7. Truckers Confront FMCSA Leaders During Public Listening Sessions
Two of the biggest stories you will only find on TransportationNation.com came during public listening sessions on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) proposed hours of service (HOS) changes.
The first explosive moment came during a session in August at the Great American Trucking Show.
Top FMCSA officials appeared stunned after 47-year-old owner operator Joshua Williams, of Memphis, TN, took to the microphone and urged the Agency to crackdown on state DMV’s giving CDLs to drivers who are unable to speak or read English.
The mood of the room grew palpably tense as Williams sounded off about how he believes immigrants are “taking advantage of our laws.”
“It’s a huge problem and it needs to be addressed,” Williams said. “If you come to our country you need to learn our language.”
Then in September during a listening session held in Washington, D.C., fifteen-year trucking veteran and founder of the United States Transportation Alliance (USTA), Mike Landis, made a “jaw dropping” admission to top FMCSA leaders.
“Pissed” by a so-called safety advocate arguing for tighter restrictions and regulations on truckers, Landis sounded off.
“I’m just gonna tell ya. Fifteen years I’ve been driving a truck. Not once in fifteen years have I probably followed your rules. I do what I want, when I want, and how I want. Now that you can pick your jaws up off the floor… you can call it cheating, creative editing, I don’t care. I call it responsibility,” Landis told the panel.
6. California’s Assembly Bill 5 To “Put Thousands of Owner Operators Out Of Business”
In September, California’s Democratic governor Gavin Newsom signed controversial legislation known as Assembly Bill 5 (A.B. 5), sending shockwaves through independent contractors and trucking companies operating in the state.
The new legislation imposes an ABC test to determine status of an independent contractor that would all but eliminate the owner operator model in the state.
As many as 70,000 owner operators and independent contractors are at risk, critics say.
One major critic is the California Trucking Association (CTA).
CTA says the new law “will put tens of thousands of owner operator truckers, who service agriculture, retail and other industry sectors, out of business.”
The law was set to take effect January 1, 2020 and prompted major carriers such as Landstar, Prime and others to notify its owner operators they would have to leave the state if they wished to continue working with the company.
However, in November, CTA filed a lawsuit in federal court in the Southern District of California against California Attorney General Xavier Becerra challenging A.B. 5.
On New Year’s Eve, U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez issued a restraining order blocking the state from enforcing its A.B. 5 law for motor carriers until at least January 13, 2020.
Benitez says the law would cause “imminent, irreparable harm” to carriers and owner operators.
“Without significantly transforming their operations to treat independent contractor drivers as employees … they face the risk of governmental enforcement actions, as well as criminal and civil penalties,” Benitez writes in his opinion.
The court will now consider a longer stay of enforcement for motor carriers.
If state legislators do not amend the law and/or the courts do not stop enforcement of A.B. 5, it could easily jump up into our top 5 stories in 2020.
5. “Carnage” in Colorado’s I-70 Crash
It is a crash and a case that has captivated the attention of many in the trucking community.
In April, 23-year-old truck driver Rogel Lazaro Aguilera-Mederos plowed into stopped rush hour traffic along Interstate 70, resulting in a fiery and horrific scene, killing four motorists and injuring many more.
The crash involved dozens of passenger vehicles and quickly drew national attention.
Aguilera-Mederos was subsequently charged with a slew of felonies for his involvement.
As more information has surfaced about what led to the terrible crash, a split of opinion has emerged among those following the case.
Some believe Aguilera-Mederos should be put behind bars for many years, while others view the crash as an accident.
The trial is expected to begin in May.
TNN will continue to bring you the latest developments.
4. Nuclear Verdicts Blowing Up Insurance Rates
The trucking industry saw an explosion of verdicts of more than $10 million against trucking companies in 2019.
These decisions by juries have become known as “nuclear verdicts.”
In 2019, TNN reported on dozens of these cases.
A few of the most notable cases included judgements against Werner Enterprises of $40.5 million, Premier Transportation of $33.6 million, and an $80 million verdict against Texas-based JNM Express, Anca Transport, and Omega Freight Logistics.
Trucking companies not involved in these cases are also feeling the effect as insurance rates continue to increase.
Some carriers have reported insurance rates rising in 2019 by as much as 30-50%, even if the company did not report a fatal accident in the previous 24 months.
Industry stakeholders have expressed serious concern about this growing trend and will be looking for ways to combat it as we move into 2020.
3. FMCSA Proposes Hours of Service Changes
In March, U.S. DOT Secretary Elaine Chao announced during the Mid-America Trucking Show that the Department was moving forward on its plan to propose changes to truckers’ HOS regulations.
Chao said the goal was to provide more “flexibility” in the regulations.
Then in August, the then-head of the FMCSA, Ray Martinez, announced the changes.
Industry stakeholders largely applauded the FMCSA’s proposal.
A public comment period ensued and closed in October.
Topping the list of concerns from truckers was the “risk” drivers could be coerced to work longer days.
Questions remain as to whether the FMCSA will issue a final rule during 2020.
A recent TNN report highlights a growing number of industry insiders expressing concern the Agency may delay any announcement due to the fact 2020 is an election year.
Others are questioning the timing of Martinez’s sudden resignation last October.
An FMCSA spokesperson recently spoke with TNN about the speculation surrounding the issue.
You can read that report HERE.
TNN will continue to bring you the latest HOS news going into 2020.
2. Trucker Crash Deaths Rise To 30-Year High
In October, a report released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) rocked the trucking industry.
The NHTSA released its highway crash fatality data for 2018, and while overall fatalities declined by 2.4%, the news was not as positive for truck drivers and occupants of large trucks.
NHTSA reported a total of 885 large truck occupants perished in crashes in 2018.
That number marks the most since 1988 when 911 died.
Additionally, another 3,525 motorists and 541 pedestrians and pedalcyclists were killed in large truck-involved accidents.
Industry stakeholders immediately attempted to put these troubling numbers in context based on their legislative and regulatory agendas.
Some groups pointed to the electronic logging devices (ELD) mandate, which proponents argued would save lives.
However, in February, the results of an explosive study determined the ELD mandate likely increased crashes, led to a substantial increase in “unsafe” driving violations among truck drivers, but dramatically reduced HOS violations.
Vocal critics of the mandate such as the Small Business in Transportation Coalition (SBTC) and the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) once again intensified efforts to push back against the mandate.
In March, TNN was the first to report legislation was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to exempt small carriers and agricultural haulers from the mandate’s requirements.
In contrast to these efforts, other groups such as the Trucking Alliance once again called on legislators to mandate speed limiters and require all commercial trucks be equipped with ELDs.
1. Carrier Closures
The top story of 2019 is unquestionably the number of mid to large sized trucking companies that were forced to shut down.
During a year that saw a freight recession take hold creating significant downward pressure on freight rates, insurance rates explode, and overcapacity roil the market, the highly profitable times of 2018 quickly dissipated for many carriers in 2019.
The year was marked by the largest truckload carrier bankruptcy in history as Indianapolis, IN-based Celadon Group abruptly closed its doors in December.
TNN was the first to break the news and accurately report precisely what happened inside the mega carrier in the final weeks and months that led to its demise.