The United States is currently experiencing a shortage of truck drivers that is a contributing factor to the rise in shipping rates and higher prices for many types of goods delivered by truck. According to cnbc.com, the shipping industry needs at least 50,000 drivers to close the gap. The American Trucking Association estimates that a total of 898,000 more drivers will be needed over the course of the next decade to keep up with growth and demand.
Let’s take a look at some of the factors that are causing this shortage in truck drivers and putting stress on the ability of companies to deliver their goods in a timely and cost-effective manner.
Dating back to 2004, the federal government changed the rules that determine how many hours per day an individual can drive their truck. The rule kept to the limit of 11 hours in a 14 hour period but changed how the 11 hours were calculated. The new rules started the clock as soon as a driver sat down behind the wheel and kept running even during waiting periods at loading docks. Since the drivers could not work as long, more drivers were needed to cover the shipping routes.
Electronic logging devices (ELDs) are another federally mandated regulation that was primarily introduced to increase overall safety for truckers and the population at large. The rules took effect in December of 2017 and track all hours that a driver is behind the wheel. Prior to the use of ELDs, truckers often only started the clock after picking up goods at a warehouse or distribution facility. While these regulations keep drivers more well-rested and better able to perform their jobs safely, they have impacted the shipping industry by reducing the number of available hours that drivers can work.
E-commerce has impacted the business world in many ways, and the shipping industry has surely benefitted by the increased demand to quickly deliver products to consumers. With companies like Amazon undercutting the prices of brick-and-mortar retailers, their demand for drivers to ship their goods puts a strain on other shipping companies.
One of the benefits to consumers in e-commerce is the convenience of timely home delivery. Unfortunately, shipping in this manner does not always use the shippers or trucks in the most effective way. Delivering small goods to remote locations without a backhaul opportunity is the norm, and adds to the shortage of drivers available to make other runs with full loads.
As technology continues to advance in the 21st Century, the specter of self-driving vehicles looms on the horizon. According to businessinsider.com, Goldman Sachs predicts that self-driving vehicles could cost American drivers 300,000 jobs per year starting about 25 years from now. This puts a damper on choosing truck driving as a viable, long-term career.
Many Silicon Valley technology companies, such as Tesla, are heavily invested in bringing autonomous vehicles to the market. Fully autonomous trucks are expected to be safer and cause fewer accidents than those driven by humans. For this reason, trucking companies are embracing technology as insurance premiums will go down. A self-driving vehicle will not need to conform to the standards of operation in place to ensure driver safety, thereby allowing longer, uninterrupted runs.
Though salaries for truck drivers has grown with the demand, truck driving is not a career for everyone. Truck drivers start at around $50,000 and in some cases are earning over $80,000 per year. But in order to achieve these salaries, many aspects of their lives must be modified to allow them to log the requisite number of miles.
Health problems such as back pain can be caused by sitting and driving all day long. It is a sedentary job that does not lend itself to exercise or healthy eating habits. The long hours that a driver needs to work puts a strain on family life. Long-distance truckers may not see their families for weeks. The lifestyle is not for everyone and is a further reason for the lack of drivers entering the field.
You need to be at least 21 years of age in order to operate trucks on interstate routes. This eliminates recent high school graduates that may opt for a career in truck driving. They are forced into other vocations and may not be inclined to change to become drivers when they reach the required age.
These are some of the reasons that there is a shortage of truck drivers in the United States. There is not one overriding reason, but rather a number of contributing factors that when looked at together, paint a picture of a shipping industry that is dealing with a shortage of qualified drivers. There does not appear to be a simple solution to this issue, and we may have to get used to higher shipping rates for the foreseeable future.