If you’re looking for headlines, look no further than the U.S. trucking industry. Monday’s segment detailing the shortage of truck drivers in the U.S. sparked one of the more interesting conversations among our team in recent weeks, and it took some reading-between-the-lines to get to the heart of what this shortage could mean for pedestrian drivers.
Earlier in November, National Public Radio uncovered that the trucking industry is facing a drought of nearly 48,000 drivers in the next year or so, based on industry-collected data. Such a drastic dip led some industry experts to predict bad news for the economy and consumers. From our perspective it could be pedestrian drivers that ultimately feel the hurt of such a drought.
NPR’s latest segment, which aired Monday morning, followed up on the November report by looking at ways the trucking industry is dealing with such a major shortfall. The gist: desperate times call for desperate measures. NPR started looking into major trucking schools like the APEX CDL Institute in Kansas City, which is apparently cranking out drivers at a rapid-fire rate. One can’t help wonder if the industry is moving too swiftly for its own good.
And here’s the portion that piqued our curiosity: NPR interviewed an Army retiree named Wayne Berry. Berry got wind of the need for truck drivers from a friend so he reached out to someone at APEX CDL. Based on what Berry says, a person at APEX decided to offer him a job on the spot.
“…they were like, ‘Yeah, we’ll take you.’ So I have a pre-hire letter from this company,” Berry told NPR, saying that the company had committed to hiring him before he knew how to drive a truck. More surprising, the head of APEX did little to quell the notion that hiring untested drivers was anything less than a good idea.
“Anybody will hire him,” said Jeff Steinberg, head of APEX CDL school. “I would have recruiters get in knife fights for him out in the parking lot to try to get him to come to work for them.”
Talk like that isn’t necessarily comforting. Berry might be an isolated case, but such candor had us raising our flags. The trucking industry has taken heat for lax standards in the past. It’s perhaps not a stretch to suggest that Berry’s situation is part of a bigger issue that could have legal implications in the future.
Drive training protocols have come under heavy criticism in the past for failing to adequately prepare drivers, and for its relatively lax standards. Even a newly conceived transportation bill, set to go into effect January 1, is looking to curb some audacious proposals, like allowing teen drivers to get behind the wheel of a big rig. Safety advocates may have won that battle, but there are other safety battles on the horizon.
That’s not to say there hasn’t been something positive coming about from the trucking shortfall. In fact, the NPR report detailed some examples of how trucking companies are trying new methods to retain its core of experienced drivers— bumping pay and getting them back home on a more regular basis, for example.
What remains to be seen is whether companies can fill a 48,000 gap without cutting corners, as Berry and Steinberg (unwittingly or not) may have subtly implied. Let’s hope that’s not the case. We’d love to hear your thoughts on trucking and other transportation safety issues. Drop us a line or feel free to leave a comment below.