Where have all the truck drivers gone?


As with any major industry, there has to be a representative body to speak out if there are problems and, when necessary, to lobby for changes. Nationally, America cannot survive without an effective distribution system. It’s a big country and there are a multiplicity of goods to move. That’s why we should all sit up and take notice when the American Trucking Associations (ATA) warns we need another 30,000 truck drivers right now. Now you may think that’s not a large number to recruit, but there are problems. Because of a raft of regulations at both state and federal levels, and the historically low pay, young people are not interested in becoming drivers. So as the current crop of drivers ages and retires, the problem can only get worse. Just imagine what it might be like in ten years time. You go to your local stores expecting your usual produce and packaged goods only to find there was no one to make deliveries that morning.

Of course, you are relying on self-driving trucks to take up the slack, except how many years will it take to prove the technology is safe? How will the truck owners finance the fitting of the new technology (or perhaps it will mean phasing out the old trucks and replacing them with the new)? Until then, ATA reports there’s a labor turnover of more than 90%. Yes, no one stays with any one company for very long. When there’s a shortage of labor, people with the right DoT accreditation can demand higher pay. If this is refused, they just move on, many into construction where the pay is better. The result is the distribution industry is endlessly recycling the same drivers, paying each individual more on every move. And all this pressure of higher wage costs is being passed on to you, the buying public. It’s also going to get worse because as we recover from the recession of 2008, the demand for goods increases and so more drivers are needed. And did you forget climate change? All the extra snow and ice as arctic conditions covered most of America. Even seasoned drivers hesitate to go out on the roads in such conditions.


So what’s going to be required (until self-driving trucks come along)? The Hours of Service Regulations of 2013 limited productivity. Drivers were required to stop and rest more often, so it takes longer to make deliveries. Unless more pay is offered, drivers will opt for work that gives them time at home with their family. Worse, more trucks and drivers are required to make the same journeys. The pay might not be a problem, but there are other Compliance Safety Accountability regulations which further restrict the number of people qualified to drive. This means there has to be a complete rethink of the distribution industry. Both the law and the underlying economics have to be revised if America is going to get the goods it wants delivered on time.

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