The 2020 Top Research Priorities list, developed in March by the American Transportation Research Institute’s Research Advisory Committee, has just been approved by the group’s Board of Directors. This year’s research priorities include vehicle-miles-traveled taxes and mileage-based safety, to name a couple. At the top of the list–the impact of small settlements.
ATRI’s Research Advisory Committee chose research topics that would analyze issues surrounding infrastructure, workforce, and legal aspects of the industry and that also match leading concerns listed in ATRI’s annual Top Industry Issues Survey. The RAC is comprised of industry executives, academics, government officials, and labor union leaders.
2020’s top research priorities include:
-The Impact of Small Settlements on the Trucking Industry — This study would review legal settlements under $1 million and focus on the fleet responses of each incidence, frequency of these kinds of cases, and the consideration of verdicts versus settlements. This will serve as a follow-up to ATRI’s nuclear verdicts analyses.
-Rethinking Mileage-Based Safety Metrics — Research in this area would look at new ways of measuring safety performance outside of traditional rates per million miles traveled, as progressing trends within the industry, along with E-commerce, have brought many changes to fleet business models and route lengths.
-Owner-Operators and Independent Contractors in the Supply Chain — This study would assess roles of owner-operators and independent contractors regarding their operational and financial differences in an effort to create better policies, as both roles play large roles in supply chains. Still, independent contractor models have the potential to see drastic changes within legislative actions at the state-level.
-Cost-Benefit Analysis of Vehicle Miles Traveled Taxes — In this research, the ATRI would examine Vehicle Miles Traveled tax deployment with a focus on implementation and enforcement costs, evasion, and both state and local level implementation challenges.
-Impacts of Rising Insurance Costs on Industry Operational Costs — This study would look into fleet resources and decision-making methods in an effort to better understand how fleets handle cost increases. Research would include reprioritizing tech investments and “cannibalizing other cost centers, such as safety.” This comes as a response to continual increases in industry insurance costs, as documented in ATRI’s annual Operational Costs of Trucking research.
In regards to the top priority, ATRI plans to have nuclear verdict research available by June, according to the group’s president, Rebecca Brewster.
“Given the work we’ve been doing on nuclear verdicts, I think the sense among the Research Advisory Committee members is, while that is a big issue, oftentimes, just in terms of frequency, it’s these smaller settlements that are really impacting our businesses,” said Brewster. “They really felt, following a similar methodology, we could pursue looking at these small settlements so we really would cover the landscape between the two studies on all that’s going on on the legal side of things and how that’s impacting our industry.”
ATRI’s research is set to continue progressing during the current pandemic while taking into account the impact of COVID-19 on the trucking industry as a whole. ATRI has already released research on the effect of the coronavirus on bottlenecks, truck activity, haul lengths and detention times. In regards to trucking activity, ATRI found that freight activity has declined, even though it spiked across six states at the beginning of the pandemic. The data from February and March show an uptick in initial truck activity as the industry responded to increased demand for essential goods, but also show a decline in April as stay-at-home mandates shut down many sectors of the nation’s economy.
For haul lengths and congestion, ATRI found that shorter hauls, along with lighter traffic, are some outcomes from the virus’s impact on the trucking industry. Before the pandemic, 32% of truck trips were longhaul, while that number dropped to 22% during the time of COVID-19.
The effects of the virus will most likely be reflected in the other research done by ATRI, including the list of top industry concerns, as well as the truck bottlenecks report.
“I can’t imagine that we won’t continue to do research around COVID-related impacts,” Brewster explained. “Even if we’re not directly studying a COVID impact, I think the fact that we’ve been living through this pandemic will bear itself out through a number of our studies going forward.”