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The trucking industry plays a crucial role in keeping America’s economy moving, especially during this pandemic. Despite the challenges, over-the-road or OTR drivers continue to ply the roads to move goods to their destinations. However, they are not enough to transport over 68% of all freight on U.S. highways.
According to the American Trucking Associations (ATA), the country has been grappling with a chronic lack of truck drivers for years. In fact, in 2018 alone, the trucking industry was short of about 60,800 drivers. ATA estimated that the shortage could increase to more than 160,000 after ten years—true enough, just after three years, the shortage has already reached crisis levels because of the pandemic.
So, the big question is, “Why is there a truck driver shortage in the US?” While we all know that low pay and poor lifestyle deter the new generation of drivers from taking this career path, there are actually more underlying causes for this pressing issue. Let’s look at the list of problems, causes, and solutions below.
Inadequate Driver Compensation
One of the major concerns of truckers is the inadequate pay they receive for the services they render. While many trucking companies pay their drivers more to compensate for the driver shortage, truckers still feel that the compensation is not enough for the long hours they spend on the road. So, fleet owners/operators must further improve pay structures and put an incentive scheme in place. Incentives such as signing bonuses, guaranteed minimum weekly pay, and other benefits usually attract applicants and retain existing employees. It's also an excellent strategy to financially reward drivers for high performance in areas related to trip productivity, fuel economy, and safety.
Truck driving is not a glamorous lifestyle. It requires being away from home for weeks or months at a time, eating at fast-food restaurants or diners, taking showers in rest stops, and sleeping inside the truck. It also poses many challenges, including relationship issues, medical problems, dealing with inconsiderate road users, and hours of traffic delays. All these reasons are enough to encourage younger candidates to seek employment elsewhere—one where work-life balance is possible. While long hours away from home can't be entirely avoided due to the nature of the job, trucking companies can explore options to offer their drivers a more balanced lifestyle. Having more retail distribution centers and adjusting routes to allow drivers to return home for the day are some of the adjustments that fleets can consider to attract more candidates.
According to the American Trucking Associations (ATA), one of the causes of driver shortage in the United States is the aging demographics. The average age of truckers is 55 years old compared to 42 years old for all other workers. Many drivers choose to retire early or pursue alternative careers outside of trucking due to various reasons. Some of them prefer to live a more stress-free lifestyle; a few drivers finally want to spend more time with family; others don't want to put their health at risk due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These early retirements further aggravated the problem. And to make it worse, the 21-year-old interstate driver requirement prevents trucking companies from recruiting drivers right out of high school. So, industry groups advocate dropping the minimum age to 18 to help increase the number of qualified drivers.
High Level of Risk
Truck driving is not for the faint-hearted. It is both challenging and dangerous. In addition to spending days or even weeks away from home, driving a truck is much more difficult and poses more significant challenges than a smaller vehicle. Some drivers even experience being attacked while at a rest stop or find themselves in a very tight spot during protests. Others share driving in bad weather, delivering goods to unsafe areas, or hauling hazardous chemicals may be a part of the job, but they sometimes end up questioning themselves if it is worth it. All the risks involved in truck driving discourage drivers from pursuing a long-time career. While companies can't deny the high level of risk that goes with a trucking career, what they can do is offer extra compensation for working at such a dangerous job.
Unfair Working Conditions
Aside from risky working conditions, truckers also experience unfair treatment, lack of respect, and waiting for an extended period at shipping and receiving facilities. These unfair working conditions make younger drivers think twice about pursuing a trucking job. Trucking companies can resolve these issues by being transparent to their drivers first and foremost and implement strategies to reduce waiting times such as staggering pickups, improving logistics, and better tracking of hours. Also, keep in mind that appreciation goes a long way—find time to thank a trucker today.