Truck Driver

ICAT Blog: Article Steering the Wrong Direction: The Truck Driver Shortage

November 2, 2021

Shortages seem to be the new norm nowadays. Whether it’s raw material shortages, final product shortages, or chassis shortages, you can expect some kind of “shortage” throughout the global supply chain. Now, you can add in another with the lack of truck drivers.

The truck driver shortage has actually been going on for quite some time now but has greatly increased since the beginning of the COVID pandemic. Now short at least 80,000 drivers—a record high—the trucking industry is scrambling to meet the demand of the sky-high freight volumes.

How bad is it really?

Let’s put it into perspective.

Truck drivers move around 71% of the U.S. economy’s goods but represent just 4% of the vehicles on the roads. And unless you live under a rock, you’ve seen the empty shelves at your local stores and heard about the record numbers of containerships sitting off the West Coast desperately trying to get into the LA-Long Beach port complex to unload around $22 billion worth of cargo. Once the ships unload the massive amounts of containers, they rely on trucks to pick them up and move them across the country. With the massive truck driver shortage, this means containers are sitting at ports for weeks waiting to be transported.

To break it down even further, the shortage of 80,000 truck drivers is a 30% increase from before the pandemic met with a massive global market demand that cannot be met. According to the American Trucking Associations (ATA), if nothing is done, the industry’s shortage will worsen to 160,000 drivers by 2030 and 1 million drivers in the next ten years.

What’s behind the shortage?

There are multiple factors that are contributing to the truck driver shortage. One of the biggest issues is the demographic of the current workforce—mainly the age and gender gaps. Currently, the trucking industry is heavily comprised of male employees 45 years or older with the average age of a commercial truck driver being 55 years old. Even more alarming than those statistics is the number of drivers who will retire within the next 10-20 years, many of whom will retire early to pursue alternative careers outside of the industry due to various reasons. And while women make up 47% of the U.S. workforce, only 6% are commercial truck drivers leaving an obvious, yet stereotypical gap.

Another reason for the truck driver shortage is the lifestyle that comes with the career. Many drivers, particularly long-haul truckers, are away from home for weeks or months at a time. Many truck drivers resort to eating a lot of their meals at fast-food restaurants and diners, taking showers at rest stops, and sleeping inside the cabs of their trucks. This lifestyle can pose a challenge for relationships and overall physical and mental health.

There is also a high-level of risk that comes with the job. A truck driver can face both challenging and dangerous conditions, including driving in inclement weather, delivering goods to unsafe locations, and hauling hazardous cargo. Not to mention, when staying at a rest stop, they can be harassed or attacked, and when civil unrest is occurring in a particular area, they can be targeted during events like protests.

And finally, the inadequate compensation has turned away many potential job seekers. Recently, several trucking companies have offered a handsome starting salary and large signing bonuses, but with the amount of time drivers spend on the road and the services they render each day, truckers still feel that the compensation is just not enough.

How can the truck driver shortage be solved?

Because of the complexity behind the truck driver shortage, there isn’t going to just be one solution to solving this mess. The ATA has argued that the “shortage” means the government should relax some regulations to make it easier for people to become truck drivers. One of these is lowering the regulated driving age which currently stands at 21 years old. Many people don’t want to wait around until they’re 21, so they go into another career.

Other solutions that have been discussed and could possibly reduce the driver shortage include increasing truck driver pay, decreasing overall time on the road, targeting untapped sources (including women, minorities, and veterans), and advancing more to autonomous trucking.

Whether or not any combination of these can or will be implemented in the near future, one thing is for certain—unless the trucking industry focuses on improving this massive shortage, the global supply chain may run into many more problems down the road than they can possibly imagine, or even handle.