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Truck Driver Shortage: What It Means for Drivers Everywhere

About 72% of all goods in America end up on a truck at some point. There are more goods traveling by truck in the US than at any point in history, so you might think it’s a good time to be a shipping company. Except, for a lot of trucking companies, decades of harsh practices and poor wages have contributed to a historic trucker shortage. A shortage of drivers has driven up the cost of delivery, with trucking costs increasing by 20% in the last year.

America needs truckers. Without the speedy and reliable delivery of goods across the country, inflation will grow, and people will go without the food and vital supplies they need to live. But what does the trucking shortage mean for drivers?

What’s the Cause of the Truck Driver Shortage?

The impact of the truck driver shortage was first felt during the lockdown, and the pandemic certainly exacerbated the problem. However, the root cause of the truck driver shortage predates the pandemic we face today. Over the last few decades, trucking has ceased to be the reliable, well-paying career it once was. Operators are treated poorly by major carriers all the way down to small shipping firms, and the wages for trucking have continued to shrink.

Arnold & Itkin has written before about the problems of pay-per-mile compensation for truckers. Operators are recruited with the promise of earning as much as they want, limited only by their work ethic.

However, pay-per-mile pays drivers nothing for the non-driving work they do:

  • Inspections
  • Sitting in traffic
  • Waiting for goods to be loaded or unloaded
  • Logging their time
  • Mandatory rest hours

This is all an important part of an operator’s job, but they get nothing for it.

On top of that, trucking employees and contractors alike are at the mercy of the company. Employees simply get whatever route the company gives them. If an independent trucker is offered a delivery contract that pays almost nothing, in theory, they can refuse it. In reality, they know refusing the contract means the carrier may not offer them another one, so they’re just as trapped as a regular carrier employee.

If trucking were an easy or fun job, maybe the low pay wouldn’t be such a factor. But the fact is that trucking is a physically demanding, mentally exhausting, and crushingly lonely job. Long-haul truckers spend 11 hours a day on the road far from home; unlike other workers, they must spend the majority of their time away from friends, loved ones, or familiar spots.

As a result, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there will be 40% fewer truckers than the economy requires to run efficiently.

Why Operators Are Relocating to Other Carriers

High turnover has been a factor in the trucking industry for years, and companies have learned not only how to respond to it, but how to profit from it. However, high turnover has ultimately backfired for the industry and the economy as a whole—without a large pool of skilled, experienced operators, it will be difficult to quickly scale up deliveries as demand increases. So what are the precise reasons drivers leave big carriers?

A 2005 study on driver turnover found the top reasons drivers leave large firms:

  • Low overall pay
  • Not enough home time
  • Old or cramped rigs
  • Poor or dishonest communication
  • Poor equipment maintenance
  • Poor training (or lack of it)

All of these reasons are fully the responsibility of each carrier, especially large carriers like FedEx, UPS, or Swift, who have the revenue to provide better working conditions.

What the Government Is Doing to Solve the Trucker Shortage

While companies are responsible for attracting drivers to the industry, people can’t wait on an entire industry to transform overnight. The White House released a statement in April 2022 acknowledging the trucking shortage, highlighting their efforts to “cut red tape,” opening up new paths into the trucking profession for young people who need a job. They’re also working on initiatives to work with carriers to improve job quality.

One of these programs includes scaling the Registered Apprenticeship program to decrease turnover and keep people employed as truckers long term. The White House says this could result in 10,000 new apprentices, which addresses a large chunk of the projected 400,000-driver shortage this year. Another initiative is to process CDLs faster; the DOT is now processing CDLs twice as fast as in 2021, with nearly a million CDLs issued since January 2021 in total.

For drivers, all these efforts could result in the job getting more bearable and better compensated. At the same time, the influx of new and inexperienced operators will make keeping seasoned drivers around more crucial. As the government and carriers try to make driving a more dignified profession, truckers are finally getting the recognition they deserve as one of the most essential workers in the US today.

Arnold & Itkin fights for injured truckers who suffer serious harm as a result of carrier negligence or mistreatment. Speak with us today in a free, confidential consultation to learn your options: (888) 493-1629.

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