US trucking group warns of pain as driver shortage balloons

By: Brad Gardner

New report estimates US driver shortage may grow from 47,500 this year to 175,000 by 2024.

US trucking group warns of pain as driver shortage balloons
The US will need to hire 890,000 drivers over the next decade, according to a new report.


The US truck driver shortage is tipped to get a whole lot worse within 10 years and bring with it economic disruption unless steps are taken to address the issue.

A new report from the American Trucking Associations (ATA) paints a bleak reality confronting US trucking operators and the broader economy due to a dearth of drivers.

It expects the shortage to peak at 47,500 by the end of the year – up from 38,000 in 2014 – and to balloon to more than 175,000 within the next 10 years.

"Looking ahead to 2016, if the economy picks up slightly, like we expect, the shortage could quickly jump by 26,000 to 73,500. If nothing changes in the trend line by 2024, the shortage could be as high as 174,500," the ATA’s report says.

"We are not saying that the shortage will reach that level; instead, this is more of a warning to the industry and the broader supply chain of what could happen if things don’t change.

"If the trend stays on course, there will likely be severe supply chain disruptions resulting in significant shipping delays, higher inventory carrying costs, and perhaps shortages at stores."

The report estimates the industry will need to hire a total of 890,000 new drivers over the next decade, or an average of 89,000 per year.

Most of those will be to replace retiring drivers, with the ATA saying they will account for 45 per cent of new hires. The second largest factor (33 per cent) will be due to industry growth.

Trucks are responsible for almost 70 per cent of all freight moved in the US, so the ATA says it is unlikely different transport modes could be used to offset the driver shortage.



The report recommends a number of measures to attract and retain drivers, including pay increases, more at-home time and better treatment from the supply chain.

"Compounding the already difficult lifestyle, drivers often complain of mistreatment at shipping and receiving facilities. Complaints range from restricting access to restrooms to having to wait extended periods of time before the trailer is loaded or unloaded," the ATA says.

"Improving the experience for drivers at drop-off and pickup locations would provide for a more attractive career choice. All companies in the supply chain, including trucking companies, shippers, and receivers, need to treat drivers with the respect that they deserve."

The report goes on to suggest a change to the age limit on people driving trucks across state borders.

"Interstate driving currently has an age minimum of 21. The 18-20 year old segment has the highest rate of unemployment of any age group, yet this is an entire segment that the industry cannot access," it says.

"Often, these individuals obtain employment in construction or the service industry as they can start their careers at a younger age."

Trucking also needs to do more to boost the number of women working in the industry. While females make up 47 per cent of the US workforce, the ATA says they comprise only 6 per cent of truck drivers.

It adds that autonomous trucks may in future be an effective means of addressing driver shortages, but has warned that driverless trucks on the highway are still many years away and companies "should not count on this being an option for some time".

A shortage of numbers is not the only problem, however, with companies reporting there is a lack of quality drivers to choose from.  

"An important thing we learned in this analysis is that this isn’t strictly a numbers problem, it is a quality problem too," ATA chief economist Bob Costello says.

"Fleets consistently report receiving applications for open positions, but that many of those candidates do not meet the criteria to be hired. According our research, 88 per cent of carriers said most applicants are not qualified."

The report says many companies are highly selective when it comes to hiring drivers and have strict conditions relating to driving history and experience.


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