There aren’t enough truck drivers to fill the needs of the market. Back in 2015, the American Trucking Association, an industry advocacy group, published a report detailing the trucking and transport industry’s struggle to find enough drivers. The report found that the shortage reached 38,000 in 2014 and was expected to reach 48,000 by the end of 2015. By the end of 2018 the number jumped to 60,800, and it’s estimated to more than double over the next decade.
Why are there so few drivers?
There is more than one reason. There is an aging workforce. The industry is not attracting many women to enter the profession. Notably, there is a lack of qualified candidates for trucking companies to choose from.
Quality over quantity is the better way to go.
Professional truck drivers are held to a higher standard than other commuters. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) is a set of rules that apply to nearly everyone who operates a commercial motor vehicle. The FMCSR covers topics including driver qualifications, safety requirements, how many hours a driver can remain on duty, and the penalties for violating rules.
If a police officer pulls over a family car, there is no driver log inspection. A group of friends taking a cross country road trip will not be decommissioned for failing to show how many hours the current driver has been behind the wheel. Obtaining a commercial driver’s license (CDL) requires much more training than a regular driver’s license does. At a minimum, getting a CDL, requires getting a permit to train with a CDL holder and passing a skills test.
Behind all the news about a driver shortage, is a recent shift in how the United States tackles the issue itself. There has recently been a new focus on deregulating the trucking industry as the United States continues to find ways to make truck driving more alluring to newcomers. As we recently wrote, the FMCSA will likely be having its longstanding drive time rules deregulated as a way to not only place more money in the pockets of truck drivers, but to help drivers get to their destination much quicker. Unfortunately, it has been shown that acts such as this one actually do more harm than good. While it is great that drivers will be able to ship products at a quicker pace, it has actually been shown that leniency with these drive-time rules has a negative impact on overall crash-rates across the US.
While safety remains a serious concern, there are issues that must be addressed.
Trucking industry publication, Heavy Duty Trucking, recently wrote an article regarding the driver shortage. Within the piece, they were able to interview Bob Costello, the Chief Economist from the American Trucking Associations (ATA). In response to a recent report that Costello released regarding the driver shortage, he stated that “the shortage probably seems much worse to carriers because we’re only talking about the quantity of drivers and they [fleets] also have to be concerned with the quality of the drivers they hire.” And that alone is the crux of the issue at hand. At what point does the safety of drivers and those on the road take a back seat to ensure the industry does not falter as a whole?
There are options to delay the effects of the shortage.
While the government is now working to change the regulations revolving around drive-time for commercial drivers, this solution really doesn’t act as a solution at all. It places drivers at risk of increased fatigue instead. With that being said, Heavy Duty Trucking acknowledged that Costello did provide a list of solutions in his recent report that trucking companies may adopt as a way to counteract the estimated reduction of drivers in the industry:
- Driver pay increases
- More at-home time
- Improved driver image
- Better treatment and reduced wait times (at shippers)
- Transitioning military personnel to truck driving
- Lowering the age for interstate operation
Just like everything in life, there is no silver bullet solution to issues that affect everyone. While many may believe that such actions as deregulating current rules will help the industry be more appealing or increase driver pay, there are clearly pros and cons to that approach. It is up to companies to speak up and acknowledge that driver safety must be at the forefront of each of these decisions. If companies can begin understanding and trying to implement these potential solutions, it just may counteract the inevitable shortage in the industry and keep drivers far safer on the roads in the meantime.