COMMENTARY: Addressing the national truck driver shortage

ST. LOUIS - 

Those in the vehicle logistics industry have known for a while that a shortage of long-haul truck drivers in the United States over the last several years has impacted costs and delivery times. According to a report from the American Trucking Association, the U.S. had a shortage of 51,000 truck drivers at the end of 2017. That number is expected to balloon to 63,000 by the end of this year, and 174,000 by 2026 if current trends hold.

Beyond vehicle transport, that shortage is now impacting costs in other areas as well, including consumer goods. Companies like General Mills, Tyson Foods, Hormel and John Deere have all cited higher shipping costs for price hikes in their products.

Rising transportation costs will certainly impact our nation’s economy as well. By revenue, trucks move 82 percent of the freight in the United States. Logistics and transportation account for about 10 percent of every dollar in the national economy, so an increase in transportation costs will likely increase inflation.

The causes

So, what exactly is causing this shortage of truck drivers?

Experts say truckers are aging out of the industry and not enough younger drivers are joining. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the average age of a commercial truck driver in the U.S. is 55.

Truck drivers earn an average of $23.99 per hour. Despite that, the industry is losing young workers to jobs with more steady hours and a better work-life balance, like construction or energy. The long work hours (up to 70 hours a week for many) and weeks away from home are definitely seen as detractors, especially in a healthy economy with plentiful job opportunities.

Additionally, some drivers are weary of new federal safety regulations that monitor how long they are on the road, and that mandate electronic logging devices (ELDs) on all trucks with an engine model year of 2000 or later.

As retired truck driver Robert Sanders told Business Insider magazine, “No one wants to be gone for weeks at a time while being monitored 14 hours a day for a ridiculously low wage while performing a stressful and dangerous job. Might as well do a job where you are appreciated and paid better after your eight-hour shift.”

While driverless cars and trucks are still years away from being widely accepted, some foresee that the long-term prospects for the truck driver profession are not good.

Looking for solutions

While there is no surefire cure-all for the truck driver shortage, several developments can help attract and retain more drivers.

I believe the solution will require an industrywide push. Our nation’s economy is dependent on the ability to move products. The government should have some skin in the game and actively work to address the issue.

Following are just a few of the proposed solutions:

  • Offering higher wages, signing bonuses and frequent raises
  • Offering shorter hours
  • Congress is considering lowering the interstate truck-driving age from 21 to 18
  • Promoting to younger drivers the advanced technology used in the industry
  • Promoting professionalism, and removing the negative stigma of being a trucker
  • Identifying and actively marketing to targeted populations like military veterans and women
  • Incentivizing companies that promote drivers’ work-life balance
  • Creating value-added tools that enhance the work-life balance of drivers

The truck driver shortage could deliver a double whammy to auto dealers: both in higher transport costs and higher inflation in the general economy. Executives in the auto industry would be wise to monitor the shortage, and work collaboratively with lawmakers, regulators, vocational schools and transport companies to lessen the economic impact and develop viable industrywide solutions.

Susan Moritz is vice president of business development with ACERTUS (www.acertusdelivers.com).

Today's top headlines

X