As traffic declined, truck speeds increased
If it seems like the world is moving faster than ever, that’s probably true. The pandemic has not slowed, and neither have trucking fleets on the nation’s roadways.
According to data compiled by Internet of Things company Samsara, trucking fleets are driving faster than ever. That has resulted in more miles per day as drivers try to keep pace with the demands of American consumers navigating through COVID lockdowns that have resulted in booming e-commerce business and essential goods shortages.
“Our asset-based business has seen sequential tonnage increases in most every month through the end of November and residential delivery shipments have increased meaningfully thanks to the surge in e-commerce,” Seth Runser, vice president of linehaul operations for ABF Freight, said in a statement. “We remain hopeful that these trends for logistics services will continue through the remainder of the year.”
Analyzing data from 3,676 commercial fleet customers, Samsara has found that fleets are busier than ever.
“Overall, 2020 has been busier than 2019 for fleets in the food and beverage, transportation and warehousing, and retail industries. Across these industries, fleets are driving about 10% more miles per day compared to 2019, with only about 5% more vehicles on the road,” the company wrote in a blog post on the subject.
Samsara, which provides dashcams, sensors and other safety and compliance reporting tools, found that heavy and severe speeding, defined as 11 miles per hour over the posted speed limit, has risen 20% above a pre-COVID-19 baseline established in April. It only increased further on Thanksgiving.
“Our data shows that the days most prone to speeding are the holidays themselves, likely due to emptier roads,” Ali Akhtar, Samsara’s director of data science, wrote in the blog. “In 2019, speeding was 4% higher than average on Thanksgiving Day and nearly 15% higher on Christmas Day. This year, speeding was 9% higher on Thanksgiving Day (more than double the increase on Thanksgiving Day last year), and we predict that speeding will spike again on Christmas Day this year.”
With package delivery increasing, the trends are somewhat concerning. Samsara cited research from the PowerReviews Holiday Consumer Survey that found 73% of consumers expected to spend as much or more on the holidays this year, despite uncertainty from the pandemic.
Fleets are responding and trying to service these customers and that has led to more pressure on drivers.
Ryan Flynn, president of TCI Companies, which utilizes the Samsara Driver App for tracking hours-of-service compliance, said increased demand for goods, especially in the retail, grocery and e-commerce areas, has been challenging for the fleet, which has more than 2,000 trucks, tractors and trailers.
“Amazon Prime Day falling later in the year blended into traditional fourth-quarter high demand. We are responding by adding recruiters and safety personnel so we can keep up with adding safe drivers to the team,” he said.
Samsara said it saw a 10% to 15% decline in driving activity at the outset of the pandemic, but as consumers shifted to work-from-home environments, increased purchasing of essential goods and developed an increased reliance on online buying, commercial traffic quickly picked up. By June, data analysis showed heavy speeding had increased 20%, and it hasn’t slowed.
“Our hypothesis? This 2020 increase in speeding is likely caused by emptier roads due to COVID-19,” Akhtar wrote. “This trend could become even more apparent as we approach Christmas, since our data shows that speeding tends to spike on holidays.”
Fewer people on the roads and more demand for products are continuing for the holiday season. Total miles driven for commercial fleets in 2019 in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving and Christmas increased nearly 6%; Akhtar said Samsara is seeing the same thing in 2020, with miles driven up 5% from Nov. 15 to 21.
For fleets hauling food and beverage, the trend is even more pronounced.
“Food and beverage fleets saw a 6.2% increase in miles driven this year leading up to Thanksgiving, compared to only 4% last year (whereas the other two industries we analyzed show similar increases this year compared to last),” Akhtar wrote. “This could be a result of the 2020 ‘grocery boom’ — a huge (though slowing) spike in demand for groceries this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic — combined with the added demand of Thanksgiving.”
Speeding remains a problem, Akhtar noted, with emptier roads and increased demand for capacity, which fleets are meeting, in part, by more effectively utilizing existing vehicles.
“Leading up to the holiday season, we have worked very closely with both customers and capacity providers to ensure we can respond as quickly as possible, and we rely on various technologies for supply chain visibility, communication and safety,” Runser said. “In today’s world, providing a best-in-class experience means striking the right balance of human and digital interaction, and being able to pivot quickly.”