There are fewer and fewer truckers these days. Why?
As the world grapples with the effects of this Forbes calls the big disruption to the supply chain, and its consequent challenges such as rising consumer prices, a severe shortage of truck drivers is often cited as the reason for the continuing problems.
About 72% of all freight in the United States is transported by truck, and according to American trucking associations, trucking companies faced a record shortfall of 80,000 drivers in 2021. The ATA also reported that more than 10 million Americans held commercial driver’s licenses in 2019. That’s three times more than the 3.7 million trucks available that require certified people to drive them. There are plenty of people out there who have the training and experience to drive these rigs.
So why the shortage?
Many people are encouraged to become truckers, believing they can generate a livelihood for their families. But when they get behind the wheel, they discover they are exposed to poor conditions, low wages and possible mistreatment. As a result, the industry is losing skilled professional drivers to other areas that offer better benefits, wages, and job security.
As mentioned above, there are more than enough qualified drivers to handle the rigs available. But the following three reasons dissuade them from doing so.
Low salaries. Truckers used to be well paid for the long hours they put in. This is no longer the case today. Deregulation has had a profound effect on the transportation industry, with trucker wages being based on what the market is willing to pay. In many cases, some drivers’ incomes are so low that the long hours and time away from family and home just isn’t worth it.
In addition, the majority of drivers are not paid for all the time they devote. Drivers are usually paid based on mileage, rather than overtime spent driving or doing other activities. If they are held up in traffic, at roadblocks or in warehouses awaiting loading or unloading, they are not paid for that time.
Unfair treatment. Not all carriers treat their truckers with dignity and respect. A company that pays based on the mileage system, for example, might expect drivers to perform additional tasks while waiting for their next load without receiving additional compensation. Safety inspections, attending meetings, and loading and unloading the trailer are some of the tasks that fall under this category. These may be necessary things to do, but drivers don’t get paid for them.
High risk. Driving a truck is an extremely risky and dangerous job, which requires long hours on the road. In order to drive a truck safely, the driver must be aware of and familiar with its operation. Drivers also face poor road conditions, extreme weather conditions, dangerous regions and other hazards between origin and destination.
In some cases, drivers are responsible for transporting hazardous chemicals and other potentially harmful chemicals. While they may be paid a bit more for moving these types of products (and they absolutely must be certified to do so), there is little to no upside when it comes to moving this cargo.
Finally, safety issues can be an issue among drivers who are afraid of missing deadlines. If they fall behind (due to weather, traffic jams, or loading issues), they may stay on the road longer to make up for lost time when they should be resting. This can increase the risk of accidents.
If these issues are not resolved, American truckers will continue to seek new opportunities and ways to earn a living outside of the trucking industry. This will only increase the current shortage of drivers, adding to logistics and supply chain dilemmas. Companies operating in the transport sector must carefully examine the current situation and improve the conditions for drivers.
Jay Sackos is Vice President of Cart.