Trucker shortage could make roads more dangerous

The trucking industry – the primary mover of freight transportation in the United States – is facing a driver shortage that could have implications on the economy as well as traffic safety.

A Business Insider report says that the American Trucking Association (ATA) is facing a driver shortfall of 30,000. According to the report, stagnating trucker wages, new safety regulations and a lack of young drivers are responsible for the shortfall, which is estimated to reach 239,000 by 2022.

With the national unemployment rate still over 6 percent, an industry with 30,000 openings is counterintuitive, especially when the average long-haul trucker pay is around $50,000, as the New York Times notes. Writing for the Times, Neil Irwin calls for carriers to raise wages to attract more workers.

More Than Money

Adjusted for inflation, truckers in 2013 earned less than they did a decade earlier. Carriers such as Swift Transportation are preparing to invest more in driver wages. The problem, however, is about more than money.

Gretchen Jackson, manager of recruitment at Con-way Truckload, told Business Insider that many carriers didn’t make it through the recent financial crisis, lost their equipment and then had difficulty investing in capital.

“This situation forced drivers to look for other work where they were able to be home more with their loved ones and be a part of the day-to-day life of a family,” Jackson said. “Many made the decision not to give that up.”

Truckers in search of more family-friendly hours and higher pay are leaving over-the-road (OTR) trucking jobs for other truck driving jobs and construction jobs in particular. This trend has led to a turnover rate of 92 percent among large truckload carriers. Four years ago, the rate was 39 percent.

Jackson said that drivers are jumping from carrier to carrier with no significant influx of new driver candidates. The ATA believes that it will need 100,000 new drivers over the next decade to make up for the driver shortage.

Will Less-Qualified Drivers Take the Wheel?

It would appear to be a driver’s market, but unless more companies increase salaries and find a way to attract younger drivers, the shortages might continue, which raises questions about the type of truck drivers employers might turn to. A fear among safety proponents is that carriers will turn a blind eye to safety regulations in order to meet driver shortfalls.

Already, 7 percent of drivers cause Compliance Safety Accountability (CSA) issues for trucking companies, and the ATA’s chief economist Bob Costello told Business Insider that “the pre-employment driver screening program facilitated by the government will exacerbate the driver shortage.”

The screening program overseen by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) provides carrier with a commercial driver’s five-year crash history and three-year inspection history. The FMCSA also sets regulations for drivers, companies and vehicles, including drug and alcohol testing and licensing requirements.

Large truck crashes killed 3,921 people and injured 104,000 in 2012.

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