There’s no question that truckers keep things running. Without truckers, the entire infrastructure as we know it would collapse. Imagine stores with empty shelves, food shortages, hospitals without the medications and supplies they need to treat patients, schools without food for students and other scenarios that seem impossible to fathom. Unfortunately, these unthinkable scenarios are not only very possible, if the current truck driver shortage is not solved soon, they are probable.
Although there are an estimated 3 million truckers who keep America running, the trucking industry reported a loss of more than 48,000 drivers in 2015. A large portion of these lost drivers retired after years driving big rigs across America. The current driver shortage is attributed not only to the loss of retiring drivers, but also to the extremely high turn over rate of newly licensed drivers.
Citing long hours, too much time away from home, lower than expected wages and impossible to meet time frames for deliveries, many of the newest drivers end up quitting before even completing their first year. Other drivers jump from trucking company to trucking company in search of better hours, higher pay and other benefits leaving their former employers in a lurch and facing a shortage.
The trucking education industry, however, is booming and turning out licensed, knowledgeable drivers at a very high rate. School across the country enroll and graduate new drivers almost every day, so why is that there is a driver shortage and what can be done to solve it?
While the answer to why a driver left the road is often different for each individual, the most commonly cited reason is low pay. In reality, there is not so much a driver shortage as a pay shortage. Drivers do not feel adequately compensated for the time they spend away from their families and the quality of life they endure while on the road. Living in a small truck cab, no matter how tricked out it is, takes a toll on a driver’s mental and physical health. Having to eat truck stop food, shower in communal bathrooms at truck stops and being confined in a small space for hours on end, day after day, are working conditions many drivers are unwilling to endure if they feel their pay is not commensurate with their work demands and conditions.
Not only do many drivers feel that life on the road is difficult, they do not feel appreciated or valued by their employers. Most trucking companies pay their drivers by the mile. This means time spent sitting in traffic, waiting at loading docks, weighing in at weigh stations and time spent in other delays is unpaid time. When drivers add up the time they actually spend on the road, away from home and family, versus the pay they receive, their pay rate often comes up very short. For many drivers, the paycheck they get is not in line with the actual time they spent working and it is simply not financially worth it to them to be away from home for the check they get. Why would a driver elect to be away from home, sleep and work in a cramped cab, eat sub-par food and deal with all the hassles and aggravation of a life on the road if there is no financial incentive to make it worth it? They wouldn’t and they don’t, ergo the driver shortage.
Solving the driver shortage is going to take major initiative on the part of the trucking companies who employee drivers. Companies are going to have to offer real financial incentives to drivers in order to keep them. Reconfiguring the way drivers are paid to compensate them for their full time on the road, not just the miles they cover, would be a good first step.
Additionally, new legislation requires drivers to electronically record the hours they log in an effort to combat fatigue. However, these laws slow truckers down and cut into the time they spend driving, accruing mileage and earning pay. If they want to keep drivers, trucking companies are going to have to find a way to compensate drivers for the time they spend complying with transportation laws in addition to the compensation they receive for miles covered.
Another way trucking companies can correct the driver shortage is by offering more benefits and recognition to their drivers. Many drivers feel unappreciated, undervalued and completely replaceable by their companies. Offering bonuses, paid vacations and pay raises for drivers who stay with the company are smart ways to incentivize drivers to keep on trucking.
Solving the driver shortage is the way to keep our current infrastructure up and running. Without drivers, almost everything we use on a daily basis will soon be in short supply. It’s time for trucking companies to share their profits with their drivers and keep them on the road.