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A conversation with ATRI CEO Rebecca Brewster

ATRI’s research has informed policy and driven change, but the organization is not done with its mission

ATRI has conducted significant research through the years that has informed policy and driven change. CEO Rebecca Brewster sits down with Nicole Glenn of Candor Expedite to discuss the organization. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Welcome to Conversations with Nicole, a new column in which Candor Expedite founder and CEO Nicole Glenn speaks with industry professionals about their experience in logistics – working with shippers and carriers; key challenges; and lessons learned along the way. Here Nicole speaks with Rebecca Brewster, CEO of the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI).

Nicole: You have both created and delivered on ATRI’s mission for nearly 30 years. Please share more about the organization and its goals.

Rebecca: ATRI is the trucking industry’s not for profit research organization and our mission is research to improve the trucking industry’s safety and productivity. ATRI relies on its Research Advisory Committee (RAC) to annually identify the trucking industry’s top research priorities.  RAC members represent motor carriers, industry suppliers, shippers, professional truck drivers, academia, law enforcement, and government. 

Nicole: What ATRI achievements are you most proud of?

Rebecca: Over the years, ATRI’s research has been used by policy makers to positively impact the industry through regulatory changes, infrastructure improvements, and an increased focus on improving the health and wellness of America’s professional truck drivers. For instance, ATRI’s research on industry impacts from the 2013 changes to the hours-of-services rules, specifically the 34-hour restart provisions, documented how the requirement for drivers to take two overnight periods from 1-5 a.m. created additional stress and fatigue for drivers. It also increased their crash risk by putting more drivers on the road during morning rush hour when they had more exposure to car drivers. Based on the findings from several ATRI studies, the 1-5 a.m. provision was removed from the rules. 

ATRI’s annual list of the top 100 truck bottlenecks was cited by the governor of Illinois as a reason that the state committed significant funds to redesign the Byne Interchange so that Illinois would no longer have the nation’s worst truck bottleneck. And, throughout ATRI’s history, our work on fatigue management and driver health and wellness has informed the industry and regulatory agencies on how best to protect our most valuable asset, the nation’s professional truck drivers.

5 ways shippers can improve truckers’ lives

1.     Treat drivers with the respect they deserve.  
It amazes me the stories we routinely hear from drivers about how poorly they are treated by their customers, including being denied access to restroom facilities.  Would you tell a customer visiting your facility that they couldn’t use the restroom?  Of course not. 
2.     Drivers have said that detention is a top concern. 
Minimizing the time drivers are at your facility to load and unload freight should be a top priority.  If the industry can’t recruit and retain drivers because of detention, you won’t have capacity to move your freight.  It’s that simple.
3.     Another top concern for drivers is the lack of available, safe parking.  
When a driver is held up at your facility and runs out of hours, do not force that driver to leave your property to try and find available parking.  Providing a safe haven for that driver to get their mandated rest will go a long way in improving this perennial challenge for drivers.
4.     Help drivers on the truck parking front.
Encourage your state DOT to open shuttered rest areas and look for other ways to increase available truck parking at public rest areas. 
5.     With passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, we will finally see much needed investment in our nation’s transportation infrastructure – the trucking industry’s workplace. 
Commit to working on behalf of the nation’s truck drivers to make sure your state DOT uses available monies to increase truck parking, address truck bottlenecks, and operate the transportation system more efficiently. 

Nicole: What are the top three challenges the industry faces today?

Rebecca: ATRI’s annual Top Industry Issues Survey has been documenting the industry’s top concerns and recommended strategies for addressing each since 2005. In the 2021 survey, the top industry concerns were driver shortage, driver retention, and driver compensation. 

Among professional truck driver respondents to the survey, there was a tie for their top concern between driver compensation and truck parking.  The number two top concern for professional drivers was detention and delay at shipper facilities.

If the industry’s overall concerns are finding and keeping the best drivers, then I strongly believe that the entire supply chain needs to be committed to addressing what drivers say are their top concerns – compensation, parking, and detention.

Nicole: Tell us about your latest research on independent owner operators and independent contractors.

Rebecca: In December, ATRI released the results of its analysis exploring the role of owner-operators and independent contractors (OO/IC) in the supply chain. ATRI’s Research Advisory Committee identified this study as a top priority in response to a number of state initiatives – most notably AB5 in California – that would seek to reclassify OO/IC as company drivers. Over 2,000 professional drivers – more than 2/3rds of whom were OO/IC – took part in ATRI’s study to identify the primary motivators for why individuals choose to be a professional driver and how satisfied they are since coming into the industry. 

Among OO/IC community, the top three motivators were independence/ability to set hours, schedule/flexibility, and choice of routes/length of haul. Among company drivers, the top motivators were job security/stability, income, and healthcare/retirement savings. Both company drivers and OO/IC ranked income as an important motivator and in terms of satisfaction, 68.9% of company drivers and 80.1% of OOs/ICs indicated being very satisfied/satisfied with their income. A large percentage of OOs/ICs expected they would experience significant decreases in their job satisfaction (73.0%) and annual income (68.3%) if they were reclassified as a company driver. 

Nicole: Tell us more about diversity in the industry; specifically female drivers.

Rebecca: According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, female drivers currently make-up approximately 7.8% of the nation’s driver workforce, a number that has been on the rise in recent years but still represents a much lower percentage of our driver workforce than female representation in the U.S. workforce at large. Female drivers face many of the same challenges that their male counterparts do, but one of the biggest challenges is finding safe truck parking for their mandated hours-of-service rest. 

ATRI’s research is clear on why the industry would benefit from more female drivers. In our crash predictor model – which examined the safety performance of over 425,000 individual truck drivers – we found that female drivers outperformed their male counterparts in every one of the statistically significant crash predicting behaviors.  And, the male drivers were involved in 20% more crashes than the female drivers. 

Nicole: What do we need to do (collectively) as an industry to attract more female drivers?

Rebecca: We need to emphasize to women what this industry offers in terms of income potential, job security and independence. But, in order to recruit and retain female drivers, we need to be focused on addressing those concerns that drivers – male and female – have identified and that means increasing available truck parking and decreasing detention.

Nicole: You’ve been in this business most of your professional life. What keeps you motivated?  

Rebecca: What keeps me motivated is knowing how essential this industry is to our nation’s economy and understanding that the work we do at ATRI is mission-critical to improving the industry’s safety and productivity.

About the author

Nicole Glenn founded Candor Expedite in 2017 after more than two decades in the transportation brokerage business, with a vision to build the smartest and most efficient freight expedited business that delivers on its client’s promises.

Candor Expedite is known for its hot shot ground, high touch, time sensitive shipments and white glove delivery services. Nicole credits her success with an amazing team that consistently provides superior customer service, real-time updates, precision, and open communication.

Nicole is a certified member of The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). She has also received numerous accolades including being named one of the Top Women-Owned Businesses by Women in Trucking, and a 2021 Enterprising Women of the Year Champion, an annual tribute to the world’s top female entrepreneurs.  For more information, go to