Follow behind any tractor trailer truck on the highway and you’ll probably see an advertisement that drivers are needed. Online job boards, newspaper classified sections, billboards and television advertisements send the same message: Trucking companies are in desperate need for drivers.
By some accounts, the American trucking industry is short by at least 30,000 drivers. As a result, the existing pool of professional drivers are expected to do more, such as taking longer runs, more runs and in some cases, possibly compromising safety by carrying heavier loads or driving faster than is prudent. Some people predict if changes aren’t made soon, the trucking industry could face serious consequences — consequences that could trickle down into the rest of the U.S. economy.
Before we can fix the problem, we need to understand why it’s happening. Experts point to a few causes in particular.
By and large, the greatest cause of a driver shortage is the pay, or more specifically, the low pay many drivers earn for their work. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual median wage for a long-haul truck driver is $38,200, with the top-earning drivers only earning around $58,000 per year. While the median pay is slightly higher than the average annual income overall, it’s still not enough money for many people to consider trucking as a career. Factor in training costs, plus the out-of-pocket expenses of life on the road, and many people simply can’t make the numbers work.
Driving a truck requires long periods away from home. For those with families, the idea of spending weeks, even months, away from home, isn’t appealing.
Many of the drivers on the road today have been driving for 20 years or longer, and are readying for retirement. As they leave the workforce, they must be replaced.
The Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program launched in 2010 has made the trucking industry safer by introducing new regulations regarding driver training and experience, how long drivers can be behind the wheel and more, but it’s also reduced the pool of qualified drivers. Companies cannot hire younger, less experienced drivers and, as of July 2013, drivers cannot drive more than 72 hours in a week. That means more drivers are needed to get loads to their destinations on time.
Fixing the Problem
Some argue the best way to reduce the driver shortage is to increase pay. Some companies have increased sign-on bonuses, as well as other payments for performances. Improving productivity, by offering advanced tools to help drivers do their jobs better, can also improve pay as drivers drive more miles. Making it easier, and safer, for drivers to do their jobs will also help attract new drivers to the field.
As the economy improves, and more goods need to be shipped around the country, the need for qualified drivers will only increase. Without drivers, the shipment of goods will be delayed — and some areas could even experience shortages of items — and the economy will inevitably suffer. Some companies are looking into alternatives, such as rail transport and driverless vehicles, but few experts believe the need for qualified drivers will ever go away. In the meantime, companies will continue to recruit drivers and try to fill those open positions, and find ways to attract new drivers to the field.