Not surprisingly, economic uncertainty and the untold impact of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s new Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 (CSA2010) regulatory program top the list of trucking concerns this year, according to this year’s annual survey conducted by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI).

What is something of a surprise, however, is the increasing “connectivity” between the issues that worry the more than 4,000 trucking executives polled by the group, according to Rebecca Brewster, ATRI executive director.

“We’re seeing now that the impact of one issue can really affect the elements of the others,” Brewster told Fleet Owner. “CSA 2010, for example, will have a critical impact on the growing shortage of truck drivers, which re-emerged this year as a concern on our survey.”

Ranked by order of importance, ATRI’s poll found the top ten issues concerning fleet executives this year to be:

  • The U.S. economy
  • CSA 2010
  • Government regulation
  • Hours of service
  • Driver shortage
  • Fuel issues
  • Transportation funding/infrastructure
  • Onboard truck technology
  • Environmental issues
  • Truck size and weight

Though the so-called “Great Recession” technically ended in June of last year and the U.S. economy has experienced four straight quarters of growth, such growth has been slow, consumer confidence is volatile and national unemployment figures still hover near 10%.

The situation for motor carriers is exacerbated by the prospect of increased regulation and the potential costs associated with impending and as yet undefined regulatory mandates, Brewster added.

CSA 2010 made its debut this year on the list and landed in the number-two slot, supplanting 2009’s government regulation. And over a quarter of the respondents ranked this issue their number-one concern, not only due to the expansive nature of FMCSA’s new regulatory framework, but also because of the uncertain impact CSA 2010 will have on carriers and drivers.

An example of the growing connectivity among trucking industry “worries” revolves around concern number five on ATRI’s list: the driver shortage. It returned as a stand-alone issue in this year’s survey, reflecting in part new “safe-driver” hiring challenges placed on carriers by new regulations such as CSA 2010.

“And the thing about CSA 2010 is that, while it may not make the list next year as an issue, it will continue to impact other trucking concerns such as the driver shortage for many years to come,” Brewster noted.

“All of this dovetails from what carriers are telling us; that it’s pretty clear many of these issues exacerbate other ones, such as how CSA 2010 will make hiring drivers more difficult,” Eric Starks, president of research firm FTR Associates, told FleetOwner.

But one thing carriers overlook is how these issues could ultimately affect trucking’s broader picture in a more positive manner, he added.

“For trucking, there’s a lot of upside to all of this for those carriers than can shoulder the expense brought on by regulations and new technology like onboard recorders,” Starks explained. “It could help raise barriers to entry and also help then raise rates, which would aid in recouping the costs required for regulatory compliance. The crucial part will be capacity; if it remains constrained, carriers can benefit from some of these issues going forward.”

One issue missing from this year’s list that ranked very high in previous ATRI surveys is traffic congestion, Brewster added.

“Congestion is not an issue this year largely due to a reduction in vehicle-miles-traveled by freight carriers and motorists alike,” she explained. “But over the next several years, as freight volumes return, I expect to see that re-emerge as a concern.”