The Trucking Industry Needs to Address Its Driver Shortage Now
In times of economic recovery, some industries struggle to hire and retain employees as employment options increase. The trucking industry is one of these industries, and it is currently dealing with an ongoing, years-long shortage of drivers. The impacts of this shortage range from the financial to the deeply personal and traumatic.
For decades, trucks and their drivers have been the lifeblood of many U.S. industries. According to the American Trucking Associations, more than 70 percent of the freight tonnage moved in the United States — about 10.5 billion tons every year — rides on trucks. This requires 3.4 million heavy-duty trucks and 3.5 million drivers, without which much of the country would come to a stand-still.
Why Is There a Truck Driver Shortage?
While truck driving may have once been a sought-after occupation, experts estimate that the trucking industry today is short about 50,000 truck drivers from what it could employ. They also estimate that this number may grow to as much as 200,000 in the next few years, even as truck driving remains the most popular job in 29 states.
Many factors are contributing to the driver shortage. As mentioned, the economic recovery is at play here, but there’s more to the story than that. The average age of a commercial truck driver today is 55 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and this number continues to go up. As veteran drivers retire, the trucking industry has struggled to hire and retain new and younger drivers who can replace them.
High driver turnover is a culprit, especially in the for-hire market (the part of the trucking industry that transports cargo for compensation, which includes most large trucks you see on the road). Since annual pay rates for private fleet positions (in other words, jobs with companies like UPS or Coca-Cola who own their own trucks) tend to outpace those of for-hire jobs, often by $20,000 or more, and because private fleet drivers enjoy more time off and work that’s closer to home, the private fleet sector of the trucking industry has fared a bit better in terms of attracting drivers.
In the critically important for-hire market, however, the turnover is more pronounced. Despite initial wages of around $40,000 to $50,000 per year, younger truck drivers aren’t sticking around. Truck driver turnover has become something of a vicious cycle, too: as the driver shortage puts more pressure on those still in the industry, the heavy workloads and significant time away from home become too much for many of the remaining drivers.
Various trucking industry experts also cite other reasons for the shortage, including governmental regulations, pay rates rising too slowly compared with other occupations, the popular (and often accurate) perception of truckers’ exhausting and demanding lifestyle, and truckers feeling disconnected from their companies.
Some companies are trying to turn things around with programs to increase truck driver satisfaction. Some of the solutions companies have tried include improved schedules, more time off, performance-related incentives, attractive benefits, and first-year advancement opportunities.
Why You Should be Concerned
The truck driver shortage obviously creates serious challenges for trucking companies and professional drivers. However, every driver who uses our highways and roadways should also be aware of the situation and what it could mean for highway safety.
According to the American Trucking Associations (ATA), the trucking and freight economies will continue to grow at 3 percent per year or more for the foreseeable future. This means demand for drivers will keep going up, even while the industry is already struggling to find enough drivers to meet its needs.
The growing shortage of drivers can cause or worsen all sorts of serious trucking safety problems, many of which are already playing a role in deadly truck wrecks every day. The truck drivers remaining on the road will likely be asked to take on more work, which means more hours behind the wheel and more miles away from home.
Fatigue is already an epidemic-level problem among truck drivers, and many unethical trucking companies pressure their drivers to keep driving while drowsy, even though doing so creates a serious risk of a devastating crash. This problem will only get worse as the driver shortage grows.
Besides that, trucking companies’ desperation for more drivers is already leading them to cut corners in terms of driver training and certification. All of this adds up to truck drivers taking to the road with less experience, longer hours, and more fatigue — which is a recipe for more deadly truck wrecks every day.
This isn’t just speculation, either: deaths in crashes that involve tractor-trailers and other large trucks have gone up every year since 2011 after years of steady decline, according to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Unfortunately, until trucking companies begin to address this shortage with real solutions — including better wages and working conditions for drivers at the expense of short-term corporate profits — everyday drivers and even safe and responsible truckers will continue to suffer the devastating consequences.
Contact Truck Wreck Justice Attorney Morgan Adams If You’ve Been Hurt in a Large Truck or Bus Crash
If you have been injured or lost a loved one in an accident involving a tractor-trailer or other large commercial vehicle, the Truck Wreck Justice team at Truck Wreck Justice is here to stand up for your rights and fight to get you the compensation you deserve. With years of experience and a sole focus on large vehicle cases, experienced trucking attorney Morgan Adams can help you navigate the complex legal issues that come with a trucking accident case.
Please contact Truck Wreck Justice at (866) 580-HURT | (866) 580-4878 or fill out our online contact form if you need advice and help after a large truck or bus crash. We offer free consultations to help you gain a better understanding of your legal options, and we handle cases on a contingent fee basis, which means that you won’t pay for fees or case expenses unless we achieve a financial recovery for you.
American Trucking Associations. (2017, July 19). ATA forecasts continued growth for trucking, freight economy [press release]. Retrieved from http://www.trucking.org/article/ATA-Forecasts-Continued-Growth-for-Trucking-and-Freight-Economy
Commendatore, Christina. (2017, August 14). Driver pay, trucking’s image and the worsening driver shortage. Fleet Owner. Retrieved from http://www.fleetowner.com/driver-management/driver-pay-trucking-s-image-and-worsening-driver-shortage
Driver Solutions. (2016, December 2). State of trucking 2017 [infographic]. Retrieved from http://www.truckinginfo.com/channel/drivers/news/story/2016/12/state-of-trucking-for-2017.aspx
Large trucks: 2015. (2016, November). Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Retrieved from http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/large-trucks/fatalityfacts/large-trucks
Reports, trends & statistics. (2017). American Trucking Associations. Retrieved from http://www.trucking.org/News_and_Information_Reports_Driver_Shortage.aspx
Walsh, M. (2013, November 15). Why no one wants to drive a truck anymore. Bloomberg. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-11-14/2014-outlook-truck-driver-shortage
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