Is the Shortage of Truck Drivers Contributing to More Trucking Wrecks?June 19, 2018
Over the past decade, an increasing shortage of truck drivers has been plaguing the trucking industry. While various factors have likely contributed to the shortage of truckers, the results have had far-reaching impacts on the American public – from delayed deliveries and increasing consumer prices to a greater risk of truck accidents on U.S. roadways.
Background: Why Is There a Shortage of Commercial Truck Drivers?
According to industry experts, the persisting shortage of commercial truck drivers in the U.S. has stemmed from a number of issues, including (but not necessarily limited to):
- The owner-operator model & costs – Many motor carriers hire truckers as independent contractors under the owner-operator model, in which the trucker purchases the commercial truck under a lease-to-own deal with the motor carrier. These deals can present high upfront costs to truckers, who then become responsible for covering other truck-related costs (like maintenance, fuel and insurance). This can leave truckers with minimal income, once their operating costs are covered, presenting a significant economic barrier to those who may want to enter the industry.
- The trucker lifestyle – Truckers are often away from home, spending large amounts of time on the road, at truck stops and away from family and friends. The distinct lifestyle of truckers is not for everyone and can present another barrier to recruiting new truckers to join the industry.
- The perception that commercial trucking is for males – Only about 6 percent of all commercial truckers in the U.S. are women (despite the fact that females comprise nearly 50 percent of the American work force).1 Persisting stereotypes that trucking is better suited for males – and, perhaps, the recruitment strategies that motor carriers use (which may specifically target males) – is another factor that is likely limiting the pool of commercial truckers in the U.S.
- More retirees than new hires – The average age of an American trucker is 55 years old.1 Many of these drivers, who are part of the Baby Boomer generation, will be preparing to retire over the next 7 to 20 years. With a lack of qualified Millennial-aged drivers entering the industry and taking the jobs available due to retirements, the trucker shorter is expected to persist for the next 10 to 20 years.
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How the Trucker Shortage May Be Elevating the Risk of Truck Accidents
While the truck driver shortage has had many effects – including on the availability and pricing consumer goods, one impact that may be threating the safety of the driving public is the shortage’s role in elevating risk of trucking wrecks.
Specifically, the trucker shortage has contributed to a higher risk of commercial truck crashes due to factors like (but not limited to):
- More inexperienced truckers being hired – With a growing need for drivers, some motor carriers are relaxing their hiring requirements, allowing underqualified applicants to fill open trucker positions. In some cases, motor carriers may even cut corners in the hiring process, overlook poor driving records or fail to verify applicants’ credentials in a rush to hire truckers. All of this can result in inexperienced drivers behind the wheel of large, heavy commercial trucks. The lack of experience can increase the risk of mishandling trucks, failing to comply with trucking regulations and/or failing to properly maintain trucks, any or all of which can increase the risk of wrecks.
- Truckers facing increasingly rigorous delivery schedules – With fewer truckers to haul loads, some motor carriers may be demanding more from the drivers they do have, setting demanding – if not unrealistic – delivery schedules to try to maximize profits. This can result in truckers violating hours-of-service rules (and/or other regulations) in an effort to keep up with the schedule. Ultimately, that can mean that more impaired truckers, including those impaired by fatigue or perception-altering substances, are on the roads, elevating the threat of crashes.
- Trucks being overloaded – Another way motor carriers and/or others may try to compensate for the trucker shortage is to overload trucks with cargo. This also presents a greater risk of truck crashes, as overloaded trucks are far more difficult to safely maneuver – especially for inexperienced truckers. Additionally, overloaded trucks are far more likely to experience dangerous equipment failures, like tire blowouts and brake failures.
The Bottom Line on the Trucker Shortage & the Risk of Wrecks
When it comes to the truck driver shortage in the U.S. and its role in increasing the risk of trucking wrecks, the bottom line is that:
- There are steps that motor carriers and others in the industry can take to reduce and overcome the shortage.
- Hiring inexperienced truckers, making delivery schedules more demanding and overloading trucks are NOT viable solutions. When these (or other) forms of negligence occur and cause wrecks, victims will likely have legal options for holding the negligent parties liable and seeking financial recovery.
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1: According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics