As the world deals with the effects of what Forbes is calling The Great Supply Chain Disruption, and its consequent challenges such as rising consumer prices, a serious shortage of truck drivers is often cited as the reason for the persistent problems.
Approximately 72% of all freight in the U.S. is transported by truck, and according to the American Trucking Associations, trucking companies had a record shortfall of 80,000 drivers in 2021. ATA also reported that more than 10 million Americans held commercial driver's licenses in 2019. This is three times more than the available 3.7 million trucks requiring certified individuals to drive them. There are a lot of people who have the necessary training and experience to drive these rigs.
So why the shortage?
Many people are encouraged to become truck drivers, believing they can generate a livelihood for their families. But when they get behind the wheel, they find they're exposed to poor conditions, low wages and potential mistreatment. As a result, the industry is losing competent, professional drivers to other areas that provide 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 deter them from doing so.
Low wages. Truck drivers used to be well-compensated for the long hours they put in. That's not the case anymore. Deregulation has had a profound effect on the transportation industry, with truck drivers' salaries based on what the market is willing to pay. In many cases, some drivers' earnings are so low that the long hours and time away from family and home just aren't worth it.
Additionally, the majority of drivers aren't compensated for all of the time they put in. Drivers are typically paid based on mileage, rather than additional time spent behind the wheel or other activities. If they're held up in traffic, at roadblocks or at warehouses while waiting for loading or unloading, they aren't paid for that time.
Unfair treatment. Not all carriers treat their truck drivers with dignity and respect. A company that pays based on the mileage system, for example, might expect drivers to take on additional chores while waiting for their next load without receiving additional compensation. Safety inspections, meeting attendance, and loading and unloading the trailer are some of the tasks that fall under this category. These might be necessary things to do, but drivers aren't paid for them.
High risk. Driving a truck is an extremely hazardous and dangerous job, which necessitates long hours on the road. In order to operate a truck safely, the driver must be aware and well-versed in its operation. Drivers also encounter poor road conditions, severe weather, unsafe 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 might be compensated a little extra for hauling these types of products (and they definitely need to be certified to do so), there are few if any perks when it comes to moving this cargo.
Finally, safety problems can be an issue among drivers who are afraid of missing deadlines. If they fall behind (due to weather, traffic jams, or loading problems), they might stay on the road longer to make up for lost time, when they should be resting. This can increase the potential for accidents.
If these issues aren't resolved, U.S. truck drivers will continue to seek out new opportunities and ways to earn a living outside of the trucking sector. This will only increase the current shortage of drivers, adding to logistics and supply chain dilemmas. Companies operating in the transport sector need to take a hard look at the current state of affairs, and improve conditions for drivers.
Jay Sackos is a vice president at Dolly.
Timely, incisive articles delivered directly to your inbox.