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Rough Road Ahead: Three Looming Shakeups of the Trucking Industry

Although it is by no means all of what we do, a lot of what we do here at Setliff Law involves (directly or indirectly) transportation and trucking.  From liability defense to worker’s compensation defense to intellectual property, even when what we do isn’t directly related to a truck, it is often related to trucking.  Since this newsletter is read largely by that interest group, here are a few things we’re watching that will probably have a big impact on trucking and overland hauling in the next several years.

Amazon

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you probably know that Amazon caused great disruption by looking for a new headquarters, picking two, then giving up on one because of local backlash.  You might not know, however, that Amazon is both looking into free single-day shipping for prime and pushing its way into freight brokerage.  Amazon may be as much as 50% of online retail.  It shipped more than 5 billion items with prime in 2017 alone.  Amazon transports both freight and individual retail items throughout the country.  Its size, scope, and reach instantly make it a huge player in any industry, and its logistics assets are incomparable.  Amazon might not only take up a huge part of the brokerage industry, immediately, it might also leverage itself into a clearinghouse for brokerage even for loads it has no part in hauling.  This is a very, very, very big deal.

Patent Trolling is Coming to Trucking

Technology has come to trucking in a big way.  Ignoring the fact that widespread use of GPS, in-cab monitoring, datalogging etc. were not factors even 10 years ago, the FMCSA mandated electronic logging as part of MAP-21.  The result has been an explosion of technology related to trucking, ranging from hydrogen and electric (and that link is NOT Tesla…) powered tractors, to logging devices, methods and software. Companies boast about the number of patents they have obtained (“… a total of 14 patents awarded to the company related to electronic logging technology…”) and the infringement lawsuits have started.  Expect them to become a feature, not a bug, in the coming years.

Truck-Specific Tolls

We are counsel for the Virginia Trucking Association.  A major issue coming up in Virginia is a plan to create truck-specific tolls on major highways.   The Virginia effort failed on this recent attempt, but truck-only tolling has already happened in Rhode Island.  While a major obstacle to these plans is slowing traffic and logjamming, much of this can be resolved using technology (see the point above), or by tracking routes and bills of lading, a la receipts taxes – if a truck can be tolled without slowing down, that obstacle goes away.  Of course, a tax on trucking will not only increase the cost of trucking, it will also increase the costs of goods and cause trucks to re-route based upon the increased costs.  With it being easier to villify tractor-trailers than to tax constituents, this issue isn’t going away anytime soon.

Those are just a few notable things that we have our collective eye on.  If this is of interest to you, your organization, or your company, or if you have any questions, please contact Dov Szego at 804.377.1263 or dszego@setlifflaw.com or Steve Setliff at 804.377.1261 or ssetliff@setlifflaw.com.