CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
March 31, 2020
Forward Thinking

Industry groups urge Americans to "thank a trucker"

#thankatrucker campaign urges businesses, consumers to recognize the work truck drivers are doing to keep trade flowing across the United States.

The American Trucking Associations (ATA) and others are joining a chorus of voices taking to Twitter and elsewhere to recognize the long hours and difficult conditions U.S. truck drivers are facing as they work to keep critical businesses stocked during the COVID-19 pandemic.

ATA called attention to the #thankatrucker campaign on Twitter last week with a blog post highlighting the need for truckers to keep working while so many other industries are shut down. The trucking industry trade association continued those efforts this week while calling attention to safety issues and regulatory changes affecting drivers. In the wake of the outbreak, federal regulators have relaxed the cap on drivers' Hours of Service (HOS) limits in certain circumstances, for example, and have granted other waivers aimed at helping speed the flow of commerce for critical goods and supplies. 

"We published a blog post to champion and thank truckers for the enormous and vital role they're playing as America responds to the COVID-19 [pandemic]," ATA spokesperson Sean McNally said in an email. "Since then, we've seen an outpouring of public support, including from President Trump, as part of a growing, organic, nationwide campaign of Americans paying tribute to these unsung heroes on the front lines."

McNally said ATA doesn't yet have data on how the situation is affecting drivers' workload or how demand for supplies may be exacerbating the current truck driver shortage that many say has plagued the industry over the last few years. Anecdotally, he said trucks are moving and supply chains are "generally running well."

"Those drivers are still, despite the challenges posed by this pandemic, out on the roads, making these critical deliveries every day," McNally said. "We urge policymakers and the general public to appreciate the sacrifices they are making by thanking a driver if they see them, treating them with respect, giving them access to facilities they need to complete this essential work."

On Monday, the Department of Homeland Security updated its guidance to clarify that truck drivers, in addition to a range of other transportation and logistics personnel, are deemed "essential workforce."

And at least one industry association has released early data showing that America's trucks are moving faster to deliver critical supplies. The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) said Tuesday that GPS data from more than a million trucks as of mid-March show "an unprecedented level of truck movement," according to Rebecca Brewster, president and COO of the Atlanta-based trade group. ATRI's real-time monitoring of heavy-duty trucks is normally used to show bottlenecks and problems on the nation's highways. But as commuter traffic has slowed and trucks run continuously to keep shelves stocked, truck speeds have increased nationwide this month.

ATRI points to the intersection of I-85 and I-285 in Atlanta, known locally as Spaghetti Junction, as one example. Afternoon rush hour truck speeds are typically less than 15 miles per hour there due to congestion, but last week speeds averaged 53 miles per hour, according to ATRI.

"Spaghetti Junction is typical of what we've seen across the country, especially in areas hit hard by the virus and subject to quarantines and lockdowns," Brewster said. "As other traffic dissipates, trucks continue to move, delivering much-needed relief supplies to markets, hospitals, gas stations, and other essential businesses."

Victoria Kickham, an editor at large for Supply Chain Quarterly, started her career as a newspaper reporter in the Boston area before moving into B2B journalism. She has covered manufacturing, distribution and supply chain issues for a variety of publications in the industrial and electronics sectors, and now writes about everything from forklift batteries to omnichannel business trends for Supply Chain Quarterly's sister publication, DC Velocity.

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