The United States faces the dilemma of a massive commercial truck driver shortage. The situation has gotten so acute that Congress is now looking at legislation aimed at increasing the number of drivers available for interstate routes. This article addresses the scope of the problem, some proposed solutions and the dangers of some solutions.
Driver Shortage- the Numbers
According to the American Trucking Associations, there was a shortage of over 36,000 drivers for 2016. The number of open positions for qualified drivers has steadily increased to over 63,000 this year and is anticipated to be over 174,000 by the year 2026. The lack of drivers is most acute in long haul trucking given the lifestyle requirements.
Recently, a bill called the Drive – Safe Act, has been introduced that would allow commercial truck drivers as young as 18 years old to operate across state lines. Under current law, truck drivers must be 21-year-old to haul freight across state boundaries.
The proposed bill is in response to the dramatic shortage of truck drivers which has the potential to hurt the economy. Obviously, increasing the number of potential truck drivers would affect the acute driver shortage.
Increase in Pay
Many trucking companies are combating the driver shortage by increasing driver pay. Even with substantial increases in pay and benefits, many trucking companies are having a difficult time finding drivers. Signing bonuses have been common and trucking companies are even advertising on radio looking for drivers. Truckers who work for private fleets generally make more money than those employed otherwise.
Driverless trucks have been in the news recently and will clearly have an impact of long-haul trucking. Many states and private companies are testing. Still, I cannot imagine long-haul trucks with no human driver in our immediate future.
Why the Shortage?
While the pay has been increasing at a rate much faster than other industries, the lifestyle for truck drivers particularly those over the road is hard. The main factors precluding a career in driving a truck or time away from the family and living on the road. It is hard to have a quality family life when you are constantly gone.
Estimates of the average age of a professional driver are in the mid-50s. Younger people are simply not sticking with the career due to the time away from friends and family.
While it is fairly easy to obtain a CDL, and the pay is much better than many other alternatives for those without a degree, the lifestyle is the problem. Conversely, those who enjoy the open road and the solitude of driving are happy to be truckers. Brian Davidson the owner of Casual Driver Leasing Services in Houston says that finding qualified drivers is their biggest challenge.
With the lack of qualified drivers causing a shortage for companies across America, the pressure on trucking companies to fill the open jobs becomes acute. This shortage forces companies to accept drivers with less experience and hire those that a company may normally not wish to hire.
Obtaining a commercial driver’s license is not that difficult and study after study have proven that the lack of significant experience substantially increases the odds of a truck driver getting in an accident.
Young Drivers are Generally Less Safe
The proposed legislation reducing the age of interstate truck drivers to 18 will have some impact on the number of drivers if the legislation is enacted into law. Whether those young drivers stick with the profession is another matter. While results of the Under 21 Pilot Program of the FMCSA (driver’s under 21 with military training), are not in yet, generally, experience is a factor in many truck wrecks.
To put this in perspective, many states such as Texas have additional limitations on new drivers, which limitations reduce the number of accidents. Putting an 18-year-old inexperienced driver behind the wheel of an 80,000-pound vehicle is probably calculated to increase the number of 18-wheeler accidents in Texas and across the nation.
Last year, there were over 169,000 accidents involving commercial vehicles. Texas had more fatal truck crashes than any other state.
The number of big truck wrecks is up significantly since 2009 according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
From a community perspective, increasing pay and lowering the age of drivers will help attract more drivers but the pressure to find solutions to the shortage of drivers will prevent needed enhancement of training requirements.