Review of the year 2021: ups and downs on the road
While 2020 has turned the world of trucking upside down, 2021 required drivers to stand upside down, tie their hands and run with each other to cash in on a record freight market during a traffic crisis. supply chain that grabbed the headlines.
As the pandemic shifted from a once in a lifetime phenomenon to a fact of everyday life, the White House changed hands and a series of new regulations and other potential changes failed in a perfect storm of factors that have pushed the industry to the brink of collapse as wages have generally increased faster than at any time in a generation.
Through it all Overdrive has been there to talk to drivers and hear their stories in our usual contexts, like custom truck videos and niche transport job profiles, and about the extraordinary, like a nationwide vaccine mandate and diesel fuel shortages. Here we’ll go over the mad rush of 2021 in the hopes of giving drivers a clearer view of what has changed and what could happen to us.
Even if 2021 hadn’t brought a pandemic, vaccine mandates and a historically tight freight market, it would have been a big year for us to Overdrive, because that marked 60 years since Mike Parkhurst founded the magazine as the sometimes ironic and gonzo entry into the world of professional drivers and truck owners. Throughout the year, Overdrive reflected on Parkhurst’s prolific career publishing the magazine, producing films and even opening up a fantastic Los Angeles complex to drivers that today sounds like something out of a Quentin Tarantino movie. Find our full 60th Anniversary series here, with plenty of flashbacks and updates to past coverage of the trucking issues and lifestyle. A few Overdrive Radio podcasts from this particular series even made the final cut for the most listened to podcasts of the year.
In February, Overdrive Editors Todd Dills and Max Heine set out to explore concerns and frustrations with the FMCSA’s DataQs system, which drivers and fleets often found awkward and unfair while waiting for simple administrative errors during inspections to be made. deleted from the folder. So many people on hold have been negatively impacted on the business outlook with unfavorable ratings in the compliance, safety, accountability system and beatings on driver pre-employment screening program reports.
Even with such frustrations, the fleets and the government seemed to take the issue of driver compensation seriously. Dills and Heine carried out a major investigation into how drivers like to be compensated, long before the Biden administration planned to do the same later in the year. The authors worked hard to determine what type of pay structures best compensate drivers for a job that is as much a way of life as it is a job, examining the promise of guaranteed pay in the face of uncertainty on the road, time-based pay as a cover against holding, and why most rented owner-ops still prefer the hide in the game with a pay percentage.
In July, the Overdrive family was sad to see Heine retire, but this author, who started working at Overdrive in May, was grateful to have straddled the wise editor and to see him retire happy, healthy and deeply admired by his colleagues and the readers he served for so long.
Turning to the issues of the present, as one of the busiest holiday shipping seasons in history finally draws to a close, warnings arrived early this year of potential delays in ports. Meanwhile, a semiconductor shortage crippled production of new trucks, and a myriad of other materials and manufacturing bottlenecks hampered new trailer construction and just about everything in between. Overdrive delved into what makes the intermodal transportation niche work and found that with a little preparation, know-how and a little luck, carriers can enjoy fantastic fares in ports.
Overall, driver compensation remained a bright spot around trucking that kept drivers coming back for longer in a year of discouragement and uncertainty. Transportation and Labor Secretaries Pete Buttigieg and Marty Walsh have written in support of overtime pay for drivers, which is not required under current Fair Labor Standards Act. Owner-operators even found an unlikely ally in the IRS, which found an easier and more valuable way to calculate daily tax breaks. But in the midst of all the maneuvering for the favors of the drivers, it turned out that it was the good ol ‘market economy that drove owner-operator wages up 10% to around $ 70,000 a year, a record average for this cohort, at mid-year. Contributor Gary Buchs stepped in throughout the year with advice on purchasing fuel and dealing with the “demons” of diesel aftertreatment. On a related note, the Partners In Business series offered regular checks on how to handle the smooth running, even if it was just one truck.
But as money and that invisible hand go around the world for anyone with bills or a family, 2021 has laid bare another requirement of work that’s just as important: dignity and respect. Drivers, often seen as over-regulated and underpaid, have been flocking to self-employment at a record rate, reflecting the best efforts to cash in on record rates. With the vaccination mandate, first announced in September, the rift between company driver and owner-operator has become more apparent than ever.
This year, regulations have targeted the availability of production glider kits (although Overdrive showcased some really cool glider kits) and enforced changes in border crossing requirements between the United States and Canada. President Joe Biden has ordered major California ports to remain open 24/7, but the trucking world has responded to the news in unison, saying it will take more than just a hit. administrative control to remedy port arrears. Even now, California’s ever-growing list of CARB regulations raises new constitutional / privacy concerns with its “smog control” program.
Supply chain issues became so severe, in fact, that when a major CPAP machine recall occurred, many operators were unable to find replacements to ensure compliance with the treatment regimens required by their medical certification.
In November, a mysterious diesel fuel shortage occurred in the West and Ohio, with no real explanation for the fight ever released. As for the “driver shortage”, this shibboleth of fleet managers, Overdrive completely debunked this notion from every angle, most recently with the help of scientists at MIT, who found that drivers only had an average of about 6.5 hours behind the wheel because hassles like parking trucks and holding in warehouses consume so much productivity.
Asked Overdrive Extra columnist “Long Haul Paul” Marhoefer, channeling one of these MIT analysts: How can pilots be both scarce and underutilized?
Additionally, in a year marked by extreme weather events mistaking for a pandemic, we sought legal advice on whether or not drivers can refuse to transport in bad weather.
Now between Christmas and New Years is a good time to remember that we have stayed true to Parkhurst’s original vision for Overdrive this year in that we had a lot of fun. Dills and Matt Cole’s dispatches from North Carolina and Iowa in person and the Pride & Polish virtual truck show took an often humorous and always personal take on the world of trucking up close. We spoke to a real TV star with Lisa Kelly from Ice Road Truckers.
I wrote a review of a pretty silly trucking movie on Netflix and what that means for trucking. We checked in with a team of drivers led by women who volunteered their time to help relieve communities destroyed by deadly tornadoes in December.
The year 2021 could be another one in which engine and broader supply chain issues have found their way into the mainstream of news and reporting. Corn Overdrive, in his decades-long quest to become the voice of the American truck driver, is no stranger to these issues and will not forget the men and women who make this industry an industry to be proud of. As politicians and business people look to fix or save trucking, the New Year is a great time to recognize and thank you for all you do for communities across the country.
Thank you for your hard work, thank you for spending time with us and Happy New Year! On the road to a better year 2022 made possible by our deeper understanding forged in 2021.
[Related: POLL — Business outlook for 2022: what’s your income expectation for the new year?]