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National Trucker Shortage Affects Motor Carriers & Road Users

National Shortage of Truck Drivers is Affecting Companies and Road Users

Ongoing Trucker Shortage Will Only Get Worse, Experts Say. Here’s Why & How Some Propose to Solve The Problem

By 2028, the shortage of truck drivers in the U.S. could triple, with more than 160,000 open positions without truckers to fill them. That’s according to the latest reports from the American Trucking Associations (ATA), which also forecasts that, over the next decade, motor carriers will need to hire at least 110,000 new truckers each year just to replace retiring drivers. That doesn’t even account for industry growth.

Why Is There a Shortage of Truckers in the U.S.?

Several factors have contributed to the current shortage of truck drivers, including (but not limited to):

  • The aging workforce: The workforce of the trucking industry skews older, with the average age of the American trucker being 48. Many of these drivers will be retiring in the coming years, and there simply have not been as many younger drivers entering the trucking industry workforce to replace them.
  • Stereotypes: Trucking has typically been seen as a male-dominated industry. In fact, while females comprise nearly half of the American workforce, only about 6% of commercial truckers are females. That persisting stereotype may very well be keeping otherwise qualified drivers from ever entering the trucking industry workforce.
  • The lifestyle: Truckers have a unique lifestyle that isn’t for everyone. On the roads and away from home regularly, 18-wheeler drivers don’t have the same 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday schedule as other career paths. That can create a barrier to entering the trucking industry, narrowing the pool of people who are willing to sign up for this type of work and lifestyle. 
  • The pandemic: Although the trucker shortage existed prior to COVID-19, the pandemic exacerbated it, leading many to retire early or find different career paths.

Impacts of the Truck Driver Shortage

The trucker shortage has had several impacts on the industry, the roads, the economy, and more. Some of these include:

  • Higher driver turnover: High demand for drivers has led to big industry churn, with motor carriers offering better pay, bigger sign-on bonuses, and other incentives to attract new drivers. According to the ATA, turnover for large truckload carriers is about 89%.
  • Higher costs & shipping delays: With insufficient truckers to transport loads, shippers’ costs tend to rise, and there are often delays in supply chains. While that can mean product shortages, it also usually leads to price increases for consumers.
  • More pressure on current resources: Some motor carriers have dealt with the trucker shortage by creating more grueling schedules for their fleets. That can mean drivers and 18-wheelers are on the roads far more often.
  • More risks on the roads: Overloaded trucks, driver fatigue, and equipment failures due to a lack of vehicle maintenance are just some of the risks the trucker shortage has brought to the roads.

Solving the Trucker Shortage: Potential Solutions

To combat the shortage of truck drivers in the U.S., industry experts have proposed an array of potential solutions, including (but not limited to):

  • Increasing driver pay: While wages for drivers have risen, some say it’s not enough and that, in some cases, compensation structures need to change. With truckers paid by the mile, many don’t receive compensation for loading and unloading tractor trailers. Plus, a huge portion of the industry operates with drivers as contractors, meaning the drivers are responsible for covering the costs of their 18-wheelers. More stable compensation with competitive benefits could be game-changing, some industry advocates say.
  • Lowering the driving age: Currently, the minimum age to operate a commercial vehicle across state lines is 21. That leaves out one of the biggest segments of the workforce, the 18 to 20 year olds who are seeking employment. That could soon change, however, as many trucking industry leaders have been pushing lawmakers to lower the minimum age. In March 2021, U.S. Senators reintroduced a bill, the DRIVE-Safe Act, to allow 18 year olds to obtain commercials drivers’ licenses (CDLs).
  • More off time: Giving drivers more flexibility in their schedules and building in more at-home time could broaden the pool of people willing to enter the trucking industry.
  • Self-driving trucks: Although still decades away, autonomous trucks could offer another solution to the trucker shortage in the future. Driverless fleets, running on sophisticated technology, have the potential to dramatically reshape the industry.

Whether some or all of these solutions will curb the trucker shortage remains to be seen. As lawmakers and industry leaders continue to focus on this issue, they hope to put an end to the snowballing trucker shortage.