June 9, 2021

The truck driver shortage has been a long-standing issue in the logistics industry, however it has become even more of a concern since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. In recent years, the shortage has been fueled by high turnover rates, the newly launched Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse, the lack of a work-life balance within the role itself, and CDL regulations. In this blog, we will uncover the reasoning behind why there is a shortage and what has been done thus far to try to correct it.

What is Causing the Shortage?

Turnover Rate – Every year in the U.S., over 400,000 drivers enter the market.1 Although this seems like a high number, the real problem isn’t truly a shortage but rather the retention of truck drivers in the industry, particularly long-haul drivers. The average annual turnover rate for long-haul truckers is greater than 90% and has been for years. This leads many people to ask, why are carriers quitting?

Work-Life Balance – This has been found to be the number one factor leading to such a high turnover rate. Most opportunities are long-haul, however, many drivers want local hauls to spend more time at home with their families in their downtime instead of in their sleeper-cab. Being a “professional tourist” sounds glamorous, but not everyone is willing to sacrifice their lifestyle for a job on the road.

Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse – Another reason for the shortage, while a good reason to take drivers off of the road, is the Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse. Over 54,000 drivers have been banned from driving since the Clearinghouse went into effect in early 2020.2 If you’re not familiar with the Clearinghouse, it’s an online database that provides real-time information about commercial driver’s license (CDL) and commercial learner’s permit (CLP) holders’ drug and alcohol program violations. With the onset of stricter drug testing requirements, there have been even fewer drivers on the road.

Regulations – Long-time regulations have been one of the biggest reasons that there is such a shortage of long-haul drivers. Right now, drivers must be at least 21 to cross state lines. The American Trucking Association has spent years lobbying the federal government to loosen regulations in the industry. It’s now pushing for the DRIVE-Safe Act in Congress, which would allow 18-year-olds to begin driving trucks across state lines as well.

Covid-19 Impact – The economic shock of the pandemic has led to unemployment, but many people are willingly not returning to work because they are making more money collecting unemployment, which in turn is not helping our truck driver shortage. The fewer truck drivers on the road, the more the cost of goods will go up. It also has not helped that the truck driving training centers were closed due to Covid-19, yet the pandemic drove up the demand for goods (we are sure you haven’t forgotten the toilet paper craze). In other ways, the pandemic has made the driver situation this year worse than normal as many senior drivers stopped working last year to avoid catching Covid-19. Additionally, as the pandemic begins to slow down with the help of vaccines, the pent-up demand for spending money has sped up. It has become the perfect storm to create such a shortage!

A Few Stats

Age – The average age of American truck drivers is 48 years old.  There are several reasons that the average age is slightly older than the broader blue-collar workforce. As stated above, you must be at least 21 years of age to drive a truck conducting interstate commerce. This means that long-haul, heavy truck and tractor-trailer driving jobs are not open to recent high school graduates. Most individuals begin their careers right after high school or attend a trade school/college. Are we missing out on a broader candidate pool by not allowing high-school graduates to join us in the trucking industry? Not to mention that insurance companies often require drivers of long-haul heavy trucks and tractor-trailers to be 25 years old. These factors are more stringent requirements that further limit the number of eligible new truck drivers to deliver products across the nation.

Location – Long-haul trucking jobs are available to drivers almost anywhere in the country. Arkansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Iowa, and Wyoming have the highest concentration of trucking jobs. Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers are more concentrated in the Heartland and Southern regions.

National Workforce – Truck drivers make up 30% of the workforce in the U.S.’s transport and warehousing sector.3 This means that in 10 years, the industry would need to hire about 1 million new drivers to keep up with increasing freight demand and workforce retirements.

The lack of drivers isn’t just the carrier’s problem. Trucking accounts for 73% of goods that are moved in the U.S. economy. From the clothes we wear to the food we eat, almost everything is transported by a semi. It is true that the trucking industry has experienced a driver shortage for years, but the pandemic has drastically worsened the problem. In 2019, the industry was short 61,000 drivers, according to the American Trucking Association.4

The shortage means the price of groceries and moving costs are going up. This is met with the fact that the demand is up for products now that more people are vaccinated and traveling again. As an example, there aren’t enough truck drivers to deliver gas to the pumps, pointing to an increase in gas prices this summer, which we have already begun to witness.

What Has Been Done to Correct the Shortage Issues?

Salary – The industry has tried to correct this shortage by offering higher salaries to drive a big rig, but this has unfortunately had the opposite effect. Many drivers are taking advantage of the pay increase and taking more time off to spend at home. Some carriers have increased their driver salaries from $40,000 a year to $70,000 a year, yet there are still thousands of truck driving jobs that need to be filled.

Law Alterations – As mentioned previously, the American Trucking Association is urging lawmakers to change the age from 21 to allow qualified 18 to 20-year-olds to drive trucks in interstate commerce through the DRIVE Safe Act.

Route Changes – Another way that the trucking industry has made an effort to attract qualified drivers is by changing the routes that they drive to get people home more often. Rather than spending weeks on the road, carriers are working with their drivers to offer more flexible route schedules.

Automation in Trucking – It is estimated that within the next decade, artificial intelligence could be filling the need for many long-haul drivers. Most new truck models already utilize adaptive cruise control. The timeline for the development of self-driving big rigs will depend on how technology progresses, as well as the public’s perception of automated vehicles.

Why the Big Rig Life Might Be For You

As we have seen this last year, having an essential job can be quite comforting during times like a global pandemic. Not only is trucking essential, but it pays well, with the median pay being $55,000, and offers great health and retirement benefits. Truck driving is just one example of a career route that provides a sufficient income without the need for a college degree. Did you know that truck driving is the second largest occupation after nursing? Figure 2.4 shows the average weekly earnings at different education levels compared to heavy truck driving.

When surveying a number of people in the industry, they said that they enjoy having a unique view of the country, as well as camaraderie amongst their peers. Some say that the job is a good way to be a “professional tourist,” but that it is quite demanding of their time.

Kindness Matters

Here at Spot, we feel that truck drivers deserve all the credit in the world for all that they do and sacrifice. As shippers, brokers, receivers, and consignees, you also play a role in helping to make driving a truck a more attractive job. For example, you could offer drivers a place to rest, a cold drink, bathroom facilities, or even a place to park overnight. As the saying goes, people don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses.

In this case, drivers aren’t quitting their boss, but quitting a relationship. It is important that all of us in this industry realize that and make a better effort to create stronger relationships with our carriers. In the end, their jobs affect us all. Kindness matters!