Truck Driver Shortage Reaches Highest Level Ever

The truck driving industry needed 60,800 more drivers at the end of 2018 to meet the country’s demands for freight services, a new report by the American Trucking Assn. (ATA) found. Since 71.4% of all freight tonnage is moved on U.S. highways, the shortage is a problem for the entire supply chain, ATA noted.

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“Over the past 15 years, we’ve watched the shortage rise and fall with economic trends, but it ballooned last year to the highest level we’ve seen to date,” ATA chief economist Bob Costello said. “The combination of a surging freight economy and carriers’ need for qualified drivers could severely disrupt the supply chain. The increase in the driver shortage should be a warning to carriers, shippers and policy-makers, because if conditions don’t change substantively, our industry could be short just over 100,000 drivers in five years and 160,000 drivers in 2028.”

ATA’s report on the truck driver shortage detailed the factors contributing to the shortage, including an aging driver population, increases in freight volumes and competition from other blue-collar careers. It also outlined potential market and policy solutions.

While the report covers the entire trucking industry, the bulk of the shortage is in the over-the-road for-hire truckload market.

“The trucking industry needs to find ways to attract more and younger drivers,” Costello said. “Right now, the average age of an over-the-road driver is 46 years old, and almost as alarming is that the average age of a new driver being trained is 35 years old.

“Whether by removing barriers for younger drivers to begin careers as drivers, attracting more demographic diversity into the industry or easing the transition for veterans, we need to do more to recruit and retain drivers. That includes increasing pay -- which happened at a brisk pace last year -- to keep pace with demand, addressing lifestyle factors like getting drivers more time at home and improving conditions on the job like reducing wait times at shipper facilities.”

Many fleets instituted guaranteed minimum weekly pay in 2018 so drivers would have a more consistent paycheck. Sign-on bonuses and good benefits packages have also been used throughout the industry as competition for drivers heats up. ATA expects that driver pay will continue rising as long as the driver shortage continues.

To meet the nation’s freight demand, the report said the trucking industry will need to hire 1.1 million new drivers over the next decade – an average of 110,000 per year to replace retiring drivers and keep up with growth in the economy.