Omnitracs' Road Ahead blog

ATA’s annual conference was a virtual hit — here are the major highlights


The American Trucking Associations (ATA) Management Conference and Exhibition wrapped up on October 28, concluding an insightful virtual event that served as a pioneering example for many industry leaders struggling with navigating the digital conference world amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

We were thrilled to participate in the conference in several fundamental ways. We gathered essential trucking and transportation takeaways that will benefit our company and many others in the months and years to come. Read on for more on what we shared and learned.

A warm welcome from ATA

As part of the conference’s official kickoff, ATA Chairman Randy Guillot welcomed all the attendees and enthusiastically thanked the participating members. He then introduced U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, who expressed the deep appreciation and gratitude the U.S. has for truckers especially amid these trying times. “Without you,” Chao said, “food, medical equipment, and essential supplies can't get to where they need to go. You and your people are real American heroes."

ATA CEO and President Chris Spear then joined to share his impassioned message of gratitude for the nation’s truckers: “Throughout this pandemic, trucking has done what it does best care.” He then affirmed ATA’s commitment to expanding hiring efforts toward people of color and women. Last but not least, he shared the organization’s deep commitment to combatting cargo theft, fraud, and human trafficking. With this commitment in mind, Spear announced ATA has been actively working to create an advisory committee dedicated to these issues.

Omnitracs and SmartDrive: Driving a smarter future together

During the conference, Omnitracs CEO Ray Greer and SmartDrive CEO Steve Mitgang were excited to share their vision for bringing the two pioneering companies together for a converged business strategy that will benefit our customers. You can watch the video here.

Coach and care for drivers

On Friday, October 23, our very own VP of Regulatory Affairs Mike Ahart moderated a panel discussion with Lisa Gonnerman from Transport America, Paul Ruiz from ATA, and Steve Fields from YRC Freight. The panelists focused their discussion on best-practice techniques for effective driver coaching.

As it wouldn’t be a significant safety discussion without first addressing the elephant in the room, Ahart kicked off the conversation focusing on Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs). Fields, a professional truck driver, was at first hesitant to familiarize himself with ELD technology. Like many drivers, he has come to realize that ELDs provide drivers with a faster, easier, and more reliable way to track Hours of Service (HOS) and compliance. Moving into more in-cab technologies and the ample benefits they provide to driver coaching, Fields credits these technologies for helping drivers stay aware of any repetitive and dangerous habits they’re unknowingly slipping in to on the road.

Still, Gonnerman warned, fleet managers must be cognizant of which technologies are helpful or disruptive. The best way to ensure your drivers utilize quality applications beneficial to them is through comprehensive driver coaching. These applications can’t just be there to be there. Coaches need to understand and articulate the how and why of every application so they can effectively coach drivers.

Another critical component of effective driver coaching is the culture around coaching. As a professional commercial driver himself, Fields can empathize with the drivers who work for him. Like all working professionals, drivers want to feel seen, heard, and cared for at the end of the day. That’s why Fields emphasizes consistent professionalism and open communication with his drivers. This way, both parties remain open and willing to give and receive feedback.

Speaking on behalf of ATA and his close working relationship with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), Ruiz shared his insight from a regulatory perspective. The key, he stressed, lies in balancing regulatory training with coaching that goes beyond compliance. Additionally, he shared the FMCSA utilizes historical data insight to develop good coaching and consistencies within their policies. 

FMCSA updates and developments

FMCSA Deputy Administrator James Wiley Deck kicked off his presentation by highlighting the special relationship between the FMCSA and ATA and both organizations’ commitment to keeping our roads safe.

This year, the FMCSA’s attention has been on the COVID-19 response. The FMCSA’s Emergency Declaration has continued to ensure that the supply chain keeps moving, food gets to where it needs to, and medical supplies are available as early as possible. When the vaccine is ready, Deck insists that they will work with the government to ensure those essential vaccines get to where they need to go. Additionally, the organization has increased flexibilities for drivers with the HOS Final Rule and temporary waivers.

Deck focused much of his presentation on the driver shortage and the industry’s critical need for young drivers particularly as older drivers, who make up most of the industry’s workers, begin retiring. The FMCSA is actively pursuing young drivers with programs like the Under 21 Military Pilot Program.

One of the most exciting programs highlighted during this presentation was the Crash Preventability Determination Program. This program allows businesses to submit their crashes via 16 crash types and has received nearly 9,000 crash reports so far. Interestingly, they have determined that 97% of these crashes are not preventable. With these numbers, the FMCSA is better equipped to remove these crashes from CSA scores.

Top issues facing the industry

The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) hosted a comprehensive panel discussion on the top 10 industry issues facing transportation leaders in trucking. ATRI President and COO Rebecca Brewster moderated the discussion panel. The panelists included Bob Costello with ATA, Eric Fuller with U.S. Xpress, and Danny Smith with Big G Express.

Over 3,100 truckers, motor carriers, and industry stakeholders participated in the ARTI’s 16th annual survey. In order of the most-selected responses, here are the top 10 issues facing the trucking industry this year:

1. Driver shortage: This very complex issue is number one for the fourth year in a row. One significant factor is that the driving population is older and predominantly male, leaving a recruiting disconnect between potential female or younger drivers.

2. Driver compensation: The most impactful solution for decreased driver shortage is increased driver pay. As is the case with any profession, drivers are looking for a fair and competitive salary and benefits.

3. Truck parking: Parking availability significantly impacts the day-to-day lives of truckers. Local and state governments need to take proactive measures to keep rest areas open, as COVID-19 has exacerbated this issue.

4. Compliance, Safety, and Accountability (CSA): Many fleets are still experiencing problems with their peer-group determinations. This issue is a more significant concern for fleet managers than for drivers.

5. Insurance costs and availability: Costs are continuing to rise. Newer verdicts may be able to rectify this issue before these costs become unsustainable.  

6. Driver retention: Several factors have impacted the driver pool, including fewer drivers being willing to put themselves at risk during the pandemic and the industry focusing on quantity rather than the quality of drivers, resulting in a higher turnover rate.

7. Tort reform: This issue may be here to stay until regulations are put in place that provide solutions for small carriers who are often impacted more.

8. The economy: Due to the tumultuous effect COVID-19 has had on different sub-segments, it has become more difficult for businesses to spend money on services.

9. Delay and detention at customer facilities: Drivers have experienced less-than-ideal detention times, and this has been magnified because of the pandemic.

10. HOS rules: This topic ranked number two last year. Many of the former concerns the industry has had with HOS rules are much better this year due to greater flexibility with the Final Rule.

We were so pleased to participate in this conference. We look forward to welcoming all of you to our virtual conference coming your way in early 2021. Keep checking in to our official Omnitracs Outlook 2021 website for all the latest conference details.