Solving Trucking’s Problems With ATRI

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There’s no question about it: lots of people in trucking want to improve the industry.

But while it’s easy to say that, we don’t often think about what goes into making improvements. Sure, you can say, “Let’s fix this,” but the fact of the matter is, to make things better, you need to know where and how to make improvements.

That’s where the American Transportation Research Institute, or ATRI, comes in.

Founded in 1954 by OEMs and industry suppliers, this 501(c)(3) set out with a focus on the trucking industry’s image. To understand it—and therefore improve it—they needed data and statistics. Over time, they realized they were quite good at gathering information. Several decades and a name change later, they are dedicated entirely to transportation-based research, with a special emphasis on trucking’s impact on it. They then provide that research to the people who need it to solve problems and make improvements.

We sat down with Rebecca Brewster, President and COO of ATRI, to learn a little more about this fascinating organization, what they do, and how you can help them in their mission.

How does ATRI perform its research?

One of ATRI’s superpowers is that it’s representative of all trucking industry stakeholders. Motorcarriers, CEOs, risk management folks, safety managers, ops folks, CFOs, suppliers, law enforcement, truck drivers, OOIDA, teamsters, truck stop operators…and the list goes on. This diverse group has one mission: “To conduct research focused on trucking’s essential role in a safe, secure, and efficient transportation system.”

They accomplish this by turning to their Research Advisory Committee, or RAC, an external body that gets together annually to review a series of research proposals they develop based on input they receive from a survey of the general public. They review the proposals—which usually consist of one-page whitepapers that highlight the problem statement and suggest research they might do—and discuss the merits of each. After a two-day process, they vote on the research topics ATRI will work on for that year.

These topics typically address knowledge gaps in the industry that ATRI can help close. The research they ultimately present is then used to guide companies, lawmakers, and even individuals in making decisions that will impact the commercial transportation industry—and so much more.

“It’s fascinating to hear the different perspectives,” Rebecca says, before sharing a story that particularly emphasizes ATRI’s potential impact on the supply chain. Several years ago, the White House was proposing rolling back NAFTA. “The RAC was deliberating the issue: Do we need to study what the impact of that would be on the trucking industry? Certainly, the motorcarriers, particularly those who had business in cross-border operations, had thoughts on the value of that research,” she adds, citing as an example a DOT officer in Texas—a state involved in cross-border trade—who needed to use ATRI’s research to make infrastructure funding decisions.

ATRI is particularly keen to present the nuance of each topic that comes up. The diversity of stakeholders means that all angles of a problem are reviewed. Take, for example, the approach they took to the driver shortage, which has been a #1 issue for several years. Rebecca explains that in its report, ATRI broke out responses from motorcarriers and professional drivers—two major prongs of that area.

On the motorcarrier side, the primary issues were driver shortage and driver retention. But on the driver side, their concerns centered around truck parking, driver compensation, and detention and delay.

To this, Rebecca adds, “If you’re a motorcarrier and your #1 and #2 issues are finding and retaining qualified drivers, you’d better do what you can to impact the things drivers say they care about.”

In the opinion of this writer, those are wise words for any potential employer.

What are some of ATRI’s 2021 priorities?

ATRI has five major priorities for 2021, whittled down from an initial 29 proposals brought to them for this round. You can read more about them here, but below is a snapshot of the work they’re pursuing:

  • Bringing younger people into the workforce, specifically 18-20-year-olds who can eventually become drivers, technicians, and move into other roles in the industry.
  • Look at the charging infrastructure needs for electric trucks, from deciding where stations might go to exploring how this will impact parking options
  • Examine and compare environmental impact of zero-emission vehicles to combustion engine vehicles, from building and sourcing to operating the vehicles to disposing of them when their life cycle is complete
  • Update research released in 2019 looking at the impact of marijuana decriminalization on roadway safety
  • Examine the safety and workforce litigation impacts of driver-facing cameras

How to support ATRI

ATRI is supported entirely by donations from the industry. “We do not do, by design, any advocacy or lobbying,” Rebecca said. “We simply do the research and analysis and put the findings out there for the industry to benefit from.”

You can see some of ATRI’s top industry issues for yourself, and then you can do your part to help stop them by making a donation.

We’re doing our part here at Fullbay: our Fullbay Cares initiative is making a donation to ATRI. But the work goes on all year, and help is always welcomed. Your support is what helps ATRI perform the kind of research that will make the trucking industry, the roadways, and the supply chain safer and more efficient for everyone.

Suz Baldwin

About Suz Baldwin

Suz Baldwin got her start in the automotive industry, writing and editing for several motorcycle and classic car magazines straight out of college. In the years that followed, she’s written all sorts of copy for brands big and small while consuming enough coffee to paralyze a dinosaur.

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