The year 2023 started out hard for trucking and only got harder. The conventional wisdom since at least late 2022? Rates down, diesel up = trucking bloodbath.
Yet many owner-operators weathered the storm as the year plodded on and shocked everyone from economists to big fleet CEOs with their resilience. But let's not pretend it was a cakewalk.
At the second the clock struck midnight on January 1, the state of California barred 230,000 pre-2010 spec trucks from operating within the state. There are a few notable exceptions to that -- some pre-2010 trucks can still run in California with a bit of paperwork or a 1,000-mile annual limit, but it's just another regulatory thorn in the side of many an owner.
Federally, regulators sidestepped their plans to act on broker transparency with delays, eliciting no small amount of cursing. With no regulatory action aimed at broker transparency until at least Halloween of 2024, some owners took things into their own hands with boycotts, shutdowns, and more. One fed-up small fleet owner drove straight up to TQL's Ohio office to have a word about this "offsetting" practice that's bilked so many.
The few regulatory bright spots here were CVSA's new out-of-service criteria slightly leaning to the drivers' favor at roadside and FMCSA's speed limiters idea earning Administrator Robin Hutcheson a grilling before Congress. Bills to guarantee employee truckers overtime, and even a GOP presidential candidate making time to talk trucking, may bode well for trucking's legislative and regulatory prospects long-term.
Otherwise FMCSA appears in the middle of "cracking down" on noncompliant ELDs, with at least a dozen revoked in 2023. A few have clawed their way back onto the list of registered devices, and of course there's some 800 yet to choose from.
All the while, as any trucker will tell you, the RV crowd gets off easy. In August, one RVer proved how ridiculous that is when they crashed headfirst into a hauler pulling doubles, killing five people in total, including the truck's driver. How's that for regs making the roads safer?
But, of course, regs aren't the only worry on the road. Early 2023 might go down as Wyoming I-80's "Winter from Hell." Beloved Overdrive contributor Long Haul Paul found himself among legions repeatedly stranded at this or that truck stop as road crews battled to open the major interstate for even a few hours at a time.
Yet you're used to tough weather and time wasters, like as not.
You know what really got truckers' attention this year? Two things stand head and shoulders above the rest.
Firstly, a video of the Tesla Semi appearing to break California's left lane law as it smokes diesel trucks uphill on Donner Pass. Was the Tesla loaded? Is this a fair representation of electric power versus diesel? The debate rages on. Overdrive's new sister publication, Clean Trucking, hopes to cover that debate without fear or favor, detailing the good, bad, and ugly of alternative power, just like we did with the Tesla Semi's supposedly stellar performance.
But of course diesel is not dead! Just this year saw the unveiling of the new Peterbilt 589 and the special 100th anniversary Kenworth W900. The former of course also meant the sunsetting of the 389, something which Pete fanatics had seriously mixed feelings about. At least, for whatever ills 2023 included, we got two new long-hood Paccars. Don't count on that every year.
Secondly, surveillance. Big brother watching, insurers, employers and other carriers, brokers, regulators -- the entire cabal of trucking's overlords conspiring to turn cameras and AI onto the one place where any trucker might expect privacy: The cab. Overdrive detailed the creep of technology into trucking this year with a series of articles on drivers' rights and owners' opinions when it comes to a variety of techs capable of surveillance. It wasn't particularly pretty if you're one of those fine folks at a trade show trying to sell gadgets.
Finally, to top it all off, 2023 saw a bit of a crime wave hit trucking. Reports of armed predatory towers carjacking drivers? We covered it. We asked hard questions and spread the word. Some maniac on I-75 stabbing up truck tires and airbags? Overdrive's reporting alerted Florida and Georgia highway patrols to the menace, expanding their investigations. The menace is still out there though, so stay tuned.
Cargo theft? We were there.
But as 2024 rounds the corner and the economy (cross your fingers) turns, many in trucking forecast sunnier days as we move through the year.
Owner-operators who made it through 2023 should count it as another notch on the belt, another tough year like '08 or '09, or '19, when simply making it through with profit on the other end means you can hold your head high.
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So, happy new year! And here's to a better 2024. We salute you and the work you do, and look forward to another year of trucking along with you.
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