Are you ready for a hot semi-truck summer? The warm weather is already here in some places, and truckers need to prepare their vehicles for what lies ahead. While most of this information may seem common sense, it serves as a good reminder for even experienced truckers to take proactive steps to prepare for the coming months.
With more than 15 million trucks and 2 million tractor-trailers on the road, owner/operators need to take special care of their equipment at all times. Here are some things truckers should keep in mind this time of year:
1. Do a summer maintenance checkup
Truckers traditionally make preparations for the harsh winter weather, while summer conditions are sometimes overlooked. Hotter temperatures may mean a new set of measurements and calibration to ensure each component is set to work properly.
Colder temperatures compress air within the tires, giving off the impression that the tire pressure is too low. Some drivers will put more air into the tires to account for this change. However, once the weather begins to warm up, the air decompresses and can make tire pressure too high. As temperatures rise, do a tire pressure check to set a new normal.
Battery and Engine
Batteries struggle to work their best in cold weather, so keeping a solid charge during the warmer months is usually not a concern. Truckers should double-check their battery, though, heading into summer to ensure it works properly. Sometimes excessive heat can drain a battery, so monitor its charge regularly. Truckers also need to verify their truck engines stay cool as well. Inspect the truck’s coolant levels and hoses to avoid overheating and replace any suspect parts before they break.
Spending all day in a truck without air conditioning sounds like a nightmare. Check internal cooling systems as summer starts, looking for leaks or cracks in the tubing. Get any parts replaced in order to have a comfortable ride no matter how hot it gets outside.
2. Be ready for emergencies
All experienced owner/operators know to be ready for whatever comes their way. That includes creating an emergency kit that can help when something goes wrong. An emergency kit should include items to help truckers survive and recover whenever an emergency happens.
Some key things to have in an emergency kit:
- Several days of food and water
- Extra clothes
- Cellphone and charger
- Toolbox with tools of varying sizes
- Swiss Army knife
It’s also a good idea to keep a first-aid kit in the truck. Use the beginning of summer as an opportunity to check that everything in the kit is current and replace any items that may have expired.
3. Take care of your health
It is vital that owner/operators take care of their physical and mental health at all times. During the summer months, truckers should wear sunscreen each day, even if they do not plan to spend much time out of the cab. While some truck windows protect from harmful UV light, truckers may often find themselves outside and need that layer of protection.
Truckers should also stay hydrated, drinking water and other healthy drinks while avoiding soda. Staying hydrated will help keep drivers alert while driving and avoid any possible distractions from feeling thirsty or dehydrated.
It’s also important to focus on regulating emotions on the road. The summer typically means more drivers on the road, especially on weekends. This may lead to increased traffic or more inexperienced drivers trying to navigate the increased traffic. Truckers must remember this fact and attempt to stay calm during stressful driving situations.
Preparing for a Busy Year
With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to fade away, more and more people this summer are expected to travel. Even with increasing gas prices, there is expected to be a significant amount of traffic on the road as people want to leave their homes after spending much of the past year stuck inside.
Both owner/operators and other truckers must be prepared for this surge and ensure both their trucks and themselves are prepared for what comes ahead. For many truck drivers, the summer season may be seen as a respite from the snowy and icy conditions of winter. Summer brings its own challenges, but by taking the steps mentioned above, they can feel prepared and ready to take on the coming months.
Why Transportation Funding Requests are the Highest
Congressional lawmakers submitted nearly $2.8 trillion in total requests for infrastructure projects to the House Committee on Appropriations at the end of April. These requests stem from the limited return of earmarks, which the parties agreed to earlier this year.
These requests should come as no surprise. Political leaders have long championed infrastructure projects as a way to provide for their constituents. Infrastructure projects are geared to benefit a majority of the community and provide a tangible accomplishment for politicians’ time in office.
Overall, transportation earmarks dominated spending requests in this latest cycle. Spending for labor and health projects was second at $832 billion, followed by interior at $697 billion. It is likely this is just a starting point as more transportation projects will continue to be proposed.
Let’s look at some of the biggest transportation infrastructure projects lawmakers would like to undertake in the coming year.
This massive project will one day span more than 2,400 miles from Texas to Canada. It currently features multiple disjointed sections, bringing in concerns regarding its safety and efficiency. One of the significant needs for the project is a bridge over the Ohio River that would carry a planned I-69 extension between Evansville, Indiana and Henderson, Kentucky.
Both Kentucky and Indiana have pledged to spend $850 million on the bridge but requested federal funding to speed up the process.
Hudson River Tunnel
Politicians in New York and New Jersey have long fought to get funding to repair the existing tunnel, which was damaged by saltwater intrusion during Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Local leaders argue the cost is more than the two states can afford and need help from the federal government, which has, at times, supported and rejected the project. An environmental impact statement is expected to be finished soon and could give new life from the project, something Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has signaled as a priority.
The collapse of the I-35W bridge in 2007 remains one of the most harrowing disasters in recent memory. That bridge collapsed during rush hour traffic, killing 13 people and severely injuring countless more.
The American Society of Civil Engineers gave America’s infrastructure a poor grade and identified 46,000 bridges in deteriorating conditions. Approximately 600 of those bridges are in Minnesota; these need restoration and repairs to withstand the harsh weather and ensure another accident never happens again.
Along with repairs and maintenance, there are funding requests for more ambitious projects. One is a hyperloop in the Midwest that would use a system of sealed tubes with low air pressure to transport passengers rapidly in pods mostly free of friction. Inventor Elon Musk has championed this technology that one day could dramatically improve public transportation and reduce the burden on roads, bridges, and other forms of infrastructure.
Washington Bridges and Transit
A recent Seattle Department of Transportation report found that 65% of the city’s bridges were in fair condition and 6% were poor. Lawmakers would like funding to improve the bridges, invest in public transit and a light rail, fund infrastructure projects in small and medium-sized cities throughout the state, and improve earthquake resilience.
One important project is the West Seattle Bridge, which is the most used in the city. It was closed in March 2020 after cracks were discovered, causing a ripple effect throughout the local transit ecosystem. The results are expected to worsen as more people resume commuting to work as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.
Finding a Path Forward
These are only a handful of essential infrastructure projects that Congress would like to complete. Major traffic centers, such as Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and Austin, have different projects in the works as well, along with major interstates such as I-95 on the East Coast and I-10 in the South.
These latest budget requests, combined with the Biden administration’s proposed infrastructure spending legislation, could dramatically change the nation’s transportation system over the next several decades.
Infrastructure spending has long been seen as a positive use of public funds. These projects help create jobs, spur future economic growth, and create long-term investment opportunities. The nation’s infrastructure has been built over the last century and needs to be refreshed for today’s current world.
The COVID-19 pandemic showed that changes would come to how people work and gather. Improved electric vehicle technology, ride-sharing, and new public transit methods will also alter future needs.
Why it’s important to choose the right tires for your semi-truck
Every trucker has heard it a million times: The tires are the only part of the truck touching the road, so take care of them at all times. This advice has become so commonplace that it likely gets overlooked among the wide range of safety and performance checks drivers make each day before hitting the road.
It is imperative, though, that truckers ensure their tires work at peak performance at all times. A damaged tire presents an immediate safety concern for the driver and other motorists on the road. Let’s take a minute and look at what truck drivers should look for in their tires and the best ways to maintain them for safety and efficiency.
How to Pick the Correct Tires for Your Truck
The best tires for each driver depend on the type of truck piloted and the driver’s typical routes. Advances in tire technology continue to provide benefits, but even then, truck drivers may not be comfortable with some of the performance or cost tradeoffs that happen.
The traditional dual tire structure remains the most popular, but wide-based low-resistance tires continue to grow in popularity. As their name suggests, these tires provide less resistance than traditional tires, offering drivers improved gas mileage. When the price of diesel fuel is low, these types of tires are used less, as they need to be replaced more often; however, when the price of fuel climbs above $4 per gallon, they may become more cost-efficient over time.
How to Take Care of Your Truck Tires
No matter what type of tires you use, it is vital they work properly. Here are some tire maintenance checks all drivers should regularly make.
- Check air pressure.
Over- or under-inflated tires can reduce the performance of a truck and alter how it drives or reacts in an emergency. Drivers should manually check their air pressure before every trip to ensure it meets the manufacturer-designated standards. Larger fleets should consider using tire pressure monitoring systems (TMPS) and continuous tire inflation systems (CTIS) on trailers. While they bring an added cost, these systems ensure tire pressure remains safe and consistent.
- Check tread depth.
Along with air pressure, the depth of tire treads should be checked before every trip. The standard way is to put a penny with Lincoln upside down between the treads. If Lincoln’s face is visible, it is time for a new set.
- Rotate tires.
Based on where they are on a truck, tires can receive uneven wear and tear on the tread. Rotating tires every 6,000 to 8,000 miles can help expand their life span. Along with rotating tires, complete a full three-axle wheel alignment as well. While these measures may seem tedious, they go a long way in keeping tires on the road.
- Ensure proper wheel torque.
This is easier than it sounds. Wheel torque is the simple act of adjusting the lug nuts on your wheels. Wheels that are either too tight or too loose can cause damage while driving, so take a few minutes and check each one before you start a trip.
- Practice good habits.
Tires are designed to perform a certain way. Driving too fast, making hard stops, or accelerating too quickly can quicken tire deterioration. Continue to drive in a safe manner that follows all road laws and best practices to protect tires and other valuable equipment.
- Fix problems when they happen.
For busy truckers, it can be easy to neglect small items that need fixing. Too often, these smaller problems grow into larger ones that can increase the cost of repairs. If you notice something is wrong with a tire or any part of your truck, make an effort to fix it as quickly as possible, so it does not turn into a larger problem.
- Stay up to date.
New information about tires and other preventative safety measures constantly change and are continually updated. Even experienced drivers need to ensure they have all the latest training and adhere to new standards and laws when driving. Drivers can never have enough training, so put yourself in a continuous learning state to enjoy long-term success.
Drivers today must work within several standards and regulations to properly operate on the road. This can feel like a lot at times. These steps are important, and taking smart care of your truck and its tires will provide sustainable financial benefits for you and your operation.
An estimated 1 out of every 3 truckers suffers from sleep apnea, a potentially dangerous condition where a person struggles to breathe as they sleep. This can lead to a host of dangers and medical issues—from feeling distracted and drowsy to heart attack and stroke.
For truck drivers and the companies that employ them, this condition can lead to larger safety concerns. To safely operate their vehicles, truck drivers need to be alert and attentive at all times. Those who drive with sleep apnea symptoms may put themselves or other drivers at increased risk for accidents as the condition can affect focus and reactions, leading to fatigue-related crashes.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a condition where a person cannot breathe properly while sleeping, causing them to wake up sometimes several hundred times throughout a night. There are three types of sleep apnea:
- Central Sleep Apnea (CSA) is when a person’s brain does not send the proper signals to the muscles that control breathing.
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is when a person’s throat muscles relax as they sleep and collapse, blocking the airway.
- Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome (CSAS) is a combination of CSA and OSA.
People with sleep apnea may gasp for air as they sleep or snore loudly. Even though they can sleep for a full eight hours, the person will wake to feel exhausted as the constant interruptions impact the quality of their rest.
Sleep apnea can be incredibly dangerous, contributing to conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, morning headaches, difficulty staying asleep, attention problems, irritability, and others. Many times, a person will not know they suffer from sleep apnea unless told of potential symptoms—something that may be difficult for truckers and owner/operators who tend to spend lots of time alone.
Who is at Risk for Sleep Apnea?
Anyone can have sleep apnea regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity. However, there is a statistical correlation between the size of a person’s neck and their body mass index to sleep apnea sufferers.
People who have a larger neck size or are overweight have a higher chance of suffering from sleep apnea. A sleep study—done either at a sleep lab or in some cases at a person’s home—can help determine if someone suffers from the disorder.
How Do You Treat Sleep Apnea?
Once diagnosed, a sleep apnea sufferer may be prescribed one of several treatments. A Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine is typically the most common remedy. This device delivers air pressure through a mask placed over a person’s face that can help keep their airway open.
Other treatment options include a Mandibular Advancement Device, or MAD, which is a custom-designed mouth guard to help keep the throat open. Some sufferers simply sew a tennis ball to the back of their sleeping clothes to stop them from lying on their back.
More severe treatments include surgery or implants, although the most common way to relieve sleep apnea is to lose weight.
What Truckers Need to Know About Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea among truckers has been a concern for more than two decades. Some companies require drivers who meet certain criteria—either for age, body mass index, or neck size—to complete sleep studies to see if they suffer from apnea, although there is no formal regulation.
Some experts, including P. Sean Garney, vice president of Scopelitis Transportation Consulting, believe formal regulation may happen under the administration of President Joe Biden. One issue for trucking companies is the cost of sleep studies, which can be expensive both for drivers and for companies.
Many organizations have started working with organizations like SleepSafe Drivers, a third-party sleep apnea and fatigue-management service, for coaching and monitoring. With such a high number of drivers at risk for the condition, trucking companies see long-term value in finding ways to help those at risk, even before regulation makes it mandatory.
Even if a driver’s company does not require it, or if they work as an owner/operator, there is a benefit in getting tested for sleep apnea. As mentioned, several potential remedies can help a person feel more awake, alert, and calm during the day, reducing the potential for dangerous accidents. For truckers who spend their workday behind the wheel, they must do so at their full physical and mental capability for their sake and those sharing the road.
The market for used trucks has hit one of its highest points in history—with no sign of slowing down.
ACT Research reported that in March the average used Class 8 truck brought the third-highest price on record, jumping to $52,388 per sale from $43,791 just a year before. The all-time high of $55,000 was recorded in 2015 and may be in jeopardy over the coming months and years. Technavio, a global technology research company, estimates that the used truck resale market will expand at a compound annual growth rate of more than 4% between now and 2025.
But what’s driving this growth, and why do experts believe it will continue for the immediate future? Let’s look deeper at this explosive growth in used truck prices.
A Shortage of New Trucks
The COVID-19 pandemic created shortages and delays throughout the supply chain, including the raw materials and parts needed to build new Class 8 trucks. Meanwhile, demand for new trucks continues to rise. FTR Transportation Intelligence reported that more than 42,800 new trucks were ordered in January, up 144% from the year before.
With more trucking companies looking to purchase vehicles and manufacturers unable to keep pace, the secondary market for used trucks has increased. There is hope, however, that as the pandemic fades away, the supplies needed to build new trucks will return to normal levels—but it may take some time for the price of used trucks to recover.
Strangely, it’s one of the smallest components that’s holding up production. A shortage in the semiconductor supply chain has reduced the availability of computer chips, which are used in both tractors and passenger vehicles. The average tractor can use anywhere between 15 to 35 chips, but pandemic-related slowdowns, two factory fires, and congested West Coast ports have greatly decreased availability.
While things like wiring harnesses, foundry parts, axles, or tires can be added after a truck is assembled, a lack of microchips can slow the entire assembly. These challenges combined with increases in new orders have created an unbalanced market.
As of March 1, the reported backlog of trucks ordered and waiting to be built stands at 228,000. At the current build rate, it would take almost a year to simply clear the backlog if no other orders were placed. Part of that problem is also staffing. The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the ability for manufacturing workers to be on-site, resulting in a labor shortage.
The Benefits of Used Trucks
Auction and retail prices for late-model, low-mileage used trucks, in particular sleep truckers, are up. These models are at their highest point since J.D. Power began tracking the segment in 2015. Used trucks tend to hold their value more than other vehicles as drivers must adhere to strict standards to stay on the road. A lot of truckers also invest in their vehicles, adding amenities once they own the truck—both to make it more comfortable while on the road and to increase potential resale value.
According to J.D. Power, the average sleeper tractor retailed in March was 68 months old and had approximately 458,000 miles on it. Its selling price of $57,489 cost almost 30% more than just one year ago. Due to new truck shortages, companies that traditionally cycled trucks out on a three-year or five-year cycle may hold on to them longer, further reducing the availability of used trucks.
High Demand + Low Supply = Pricey
The need to carry freight has remained strong, and trucking companies with staffed drivers on the road can start charging higher fees. Those extra funds could, in turn, be used to purchase more expensive vehicles if and when they become available.
Contract freight rates are near record levels, as are spot rates, after season adjustment. This has been exacerbated by people leveraging online ordering and delivery, along with the distribution of stimulus checks that provided many families with additional income.
That said, the trucking industry as a whole finds itself in an odd predicament. There is a strong need for drivers and trucks but not enough of both. Companies and owner/operators will have to decide if they want to invest in a newer used vehicle, make improvements to their existing ride, or get in line for a new truck now. With the end of the pandemic hopefully in sight, there is hope that the production of new trucks can increase in the coming months.
Most Americans know the American Rescue Plan as the $1.9 trillion government act that brought with it an additional $1,400 stimulus check for those who qualified. While the payments were an important part of the act, the American Rescue Plan also included funding for numerous projects and programs aimed to stimulate the economy, including billions of dollars for the transportation industry.
A Huge Payment for Public Transportation
The American Rescue Plan will provide $30.5 billion to the nation’s public transit system. This includes money to support rural transit agencies, transportation services for the elderly and those with disabilities, and transportation on Tribal lands. This money will be dispersed to public transportation operators to assist with operating costs, including payroll and personal protective equipment for essential employees working during the pandemic.
The goal of these payments is for public transportation organizations to improve operations to welcome back riders once the pandemic ends, as opposed to making drastic cuts due to the prolonged lack of travelers. Public transportation ridership dropped up to 65% (July 2019 numbers compared to July 2020), forcing many systems to furlough workers and reduce service. While ridership has increased as stay-at-home and other orders have been lifted, they are still below pre-pandemic levels.
Helping the Airline Industry Recover Job Losses
Air travel dropped around 70% during the first six months of the pandemic, forcing many air carriers to furlough thousands of employees. The Air Transport Action Group believes the pandemic has put up to 46 million jobs in the aviation and tourism sector at risk, about half of the total global workforce in this sector. While this number may be a worst-case scenario, airlines have and continue to be hit hard during the pandemic.
The American Rescue Plan contains $15 billion to provide payroll support for airlines to avoid furloughs and other staff cuts. To ensure airports can continue to function, the plan also outlined $8 billion to cover costs of operations, personnel, and cleaning. This includes set-aside rent relief and other costs for airport workers and businesses. The plan also includes $3 billion to establish an Aviation Manufacturing Payroll Support Program to protect aviation manufacturing jobs.
Amtrak Gets a Needed Boost
Just like public transportation and airlines, Amtrak was also hit hard. It was reported in November 2020 that the rail service had seen ridership drop 80 percent from year to year. The American Recovery Plan includes $1.7 billion for Amtrak to recall employees furloughed during COVID and restore daily long-distance service. The money will also help states cover revenue lost in state-supported routes.
Amtrak, which typically runs at a deficit, forced major budget shortfalls this year and discussed making significant cuts to its workforce several times.
Only the Starting Point?
While these investments will surely help the transportation industry, President Joe Biden continues to work with lawmakers on an infrastructure package that could spend another $2 trillion that will impact the transportation industry in many ways.
Some key provisions of the plan, which would either need congressional support or be included in the next budget reconciliation process, calls for $174 billion for electronic vehicles, $115 billion for roads and bridges, $20 billion to improve road safety, $85 billion for public transit, $80 billion for railways, and $25 billion for airports.
While the plan is still in the early stages and much could still change, the Biden administration has made infrastructure spending a top priority. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg says the goal of this program would be to create jobs in these sectors, along with improving daily life.
“President Biden’s plan is the most visionary proposal for the nation’s transportation network since the dawn of the Interstate Highway System,” said Janette Sadik-Khan, chair of the National Association of City Transportation Officials.
A lot can still change before the infrastructure proposal becomes real. If approved, it would disperse spending over the next eight years to boost transportation-related industries. The American Rescue Plan and the Biden administration’s infrastructure proposal aim to help the nation’s transportation industry recover from the pandemic and set itself up for a lucrative future.