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NewsTrucking

ATRI: Driver shortage again tops trucking industry’s critical issues

Motor carriers and drivers agree on just three issues in 16th annual survey

For the fourth consecutive year, a shortage of drivers topped the Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry survey conducted by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI). 

The driver shortage is dismissed by some as a function of low and irregular pay for demanding work that requires days and weeks away from home. Now, the shortage is made worse by older drivers leaving the business because of the pandemic. 

Another factor is that 26,000 drivers who failed drug testing mandated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse have yet to apply for reinstatement.

Training of new drivers curtailed by the pandemic is another issue. Twenty-five percent of driving schools are shut down. Those that are open accommodate half as many students because of social distancing and other COVID-related precautions.

“We’re off 30-40% despite there being more than 12½ million people on unemployment,” Bob Costello, ATA chief economist, said in an online chat hosted by the American Trucking Associations’ virtual Management Convention and Exhibition on Tuesday. “That’s more than double where we were a year ago. There is no one silver bullet solution to this issue.”

Driver exodus

“More than 40,000 drivers have come out of the market in just the last six months,” said Eric Fuller, CEO of U.S. Xpress based in Chattanooga, Tennessee. “What we’re building is a big deficit that I don’t know can be filled in a short period of time.

“We’ve always had tightness and situations where we didn’t have enough drivers at a given time,” he said. “I think we’re likely to see this market stay tighter longer because of this.”

A surge in per-mile freight rates is driven by demand for consumer goods, a shift away from supplying service-oriented businesses like restaurants to keeping grocery store shelves stocked.

Driver pay is rising and likely to go higher, Fuller said.

“I think you’re going to have another layer of 10-12% within the next two quarters,” he said. “You’re going to have a 20% increase within a three-quarters time frame for most of the industry.

Pay increase insufficient to attract new drivers

Driver compensation ranked No. 2 in the ATRI survey of more than 3,100 trucking industry stakeholders including carriers, commercial drivers, suppliers, trainers and law enforcement. It is inseparable from the driver shortage, according to Costello.

“There’s no easy solution,” he said. “I think the driver shortage went away in April and May. Now it’s back. And it is as bad as ever and it’s not going to go away anytime soon.”

Fuller said the current pay increases are not attracting new drivers.

“I don’t think that does anything but reshuffle the deck,” Fuller said. “A compelling driver compensation increase that really brings a new influx of new drivers has to be closer to 50%. And that isn’t in the cards. It’s such a cyclical market that at some point you’re going to give it back.”

Little agreement on issues

Survey responses from commercial drivers and motor carriers found just three issues that made the Top 10 on both lists: Drivers ranked detention/delay at customer facilities as their No. 3 issue. Carriers voted it ninth. 

“We need to do a better job of managing our time,” said Danny Smith, a driver for Shelbyville, Tennessee-based Big G Express who participated in the online discussion. “Even the driver needs to take some responsibility for that.”

The other common areas: Hours of service ranked No. 4 for drivers and No. 10 for carriers. Compliance, safety and accountability (CSA) ranked fourth for carriers and seventh for drivers.

Insurance availability and cost made the overall list at No. 5, its first appearance since ATRI began the survey in 2005. Tort reform ranked No. 7, its first inclusion since 2011.

“Earlier this year, ATRI quantified the growth in nuclear verdicts in the trucking industry, but even without that critical research, the fact that tort reform and insurance issues have resurfaced in the survey are a clear sign the industry is being impacted by rising costs related to litigation and insurance,” ATRI President Rebecca Brewster said in a press release.

The survey

The ATRI’s 2020 Top Industry Issues were based on responses gathered between Sept. 8 and Oct. 16. Respondents selected their top three choices from a list of 29 critical issues. The Top 10 uses a formula that assigns three points to a first choice, two points to a second choice and one point to a third choice. Point totals determine the top issue. The 2020 list:

  1. Driver shortage
  2. Driver compensation
  3. Truck parking
  4. Compliance, Safety, Accountability
  5. Insurance availability/cost
  6. Driver retention
  7. Tort reform
  8. Economy
  9. Detention/Delay at customer facilities
  10. Hours of service

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Schneider announces driver pay increase

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.

Alan Adler

Alan Adler is a Detroit-based award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press, the Detroit Free Press and most recently as Detroit Bureau Chief for Trucks.com. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.

13 Comments

  1. In Ontario Canada insurance companies do not want to insure new young truck drivers. Experienced truck drivers can get other things that pay as well without the risk of huge medical bills in the U S. The Ford gov is helping larger trucking companies bring in cheaper foreign lower paid workers. The current insurance costs in Ontario is pushing many owner ops with their own authority out of business.

  2. When governments Federal and State stop viewing the trucking industry as a primary source of income, perhaps things will get better. When they stop passing anti- truck laws, maybe things will get better. Laws like no trucks in the left lane, how is it safe to relegate through traffic to the right to deal with merging traffic? When the laws are passed to regulate what insurance companies can charge trucking companies perhaps there will be enough revenue left to pay drivers a wage that will attract people to the profession. When lawsuits are capped so these predatory law firms do not see such a cash cow for every fender bender involving a truck, perhaps costs will decrease to operate. When a company can afford to not only stay in business, but grow. Then more jobs can be created and pay will go up.

  3. First of all truckers need to be paid a very fair and decent wage. People have to realize what these people do and sacrifice. With out the truckers people are not going to eat companies are not going to receive the supplies to keep america running. People need to realize that they put put their life’s on the line every day so we can eat and enjoy the conveniences that we do. In short they need to be paid very well and have affordable insurance and more time with their families. Their families suffer a great deal. So everyone needs to help the truckers and thank the for their hard work and dedication. Just think about the sacrifices they make

  4. All the regulations stop choking the trucks back to satisfy the insurance companies we are big boys let us make the decision slow trucks are a hazard too we haven’t had a raise in over twenty years. Do you ever see a greyhound bus waiting for an inspection at a weigh station aren’t they a commercial vehicle too? I do believe a log was created in favor of the driver but it shouldn’t be used to hang us because we went over a few minutes

  5. These are all lies. We the truckers were not asked…
    The problem is absolute MALFEASANCE.
    THE #1 reason drivers are leaving is disgustingly inhumane slip seat trucks, broken trucks, bait and switch recruiting tactics, absolute disrespect from carriers, cops, DOT, FMCSA, 4 wheelers, truck stop workers and legislators. Not to mention CONSTANTLY FIGHTING A COMPUTER TRUCK THAT IS TRYING TO GET YOU KILLED 10 HOURS A DAY AND THE HOSTILE WORK ENVIRONMENT FROM A CAMERA IN THE CAB IN YOUR FACE 14 HOURS A DAY. A NIGHTMARE WORK ENVIRONMENT.
    Truckers are tired. No money. No respect.
    They don’t realize the face of trucking is an educated, second career retiree that can read, write and count money. It is not a high school drop out holding a wheel. It is not white and country. They won’t stand for being cheated out of money by EVERY carrier. They are tired of NON DRIVERS speaking for them and making bird brain decisions that put their life and livelihood at risk. ALSO, NONE OF THE CARRIERS GAVE A DAMN ABOUT US DURING COVID. THEY KEPT SLIP SEAT TRUCKS NO INCENTIVE PAY NO CLEANER NO MASKS NOTHING. I ABSOLUTELY HATE THEM AND HOPE THEY ALL GO INTO BANKRUPTCY. I HOPE ALL DRIVERS QUIT ON THE SAME DAY FOR GOOD. THIS INDUSTRY IS GARBAGE FOR DRIVERS.
    THE POINT IS THAT THERE IS NO SHORTAGE OF DRIVERS JUST A SHORTAGE OF HUMANITY and as long as people act inhumane drivers would rather sit broke at home than be at risk, broke and insane in a crooks truck. Also get rid of that Asian lady it’s like she was put there to sabotage trucking. A wart on the industry.

  6. There is no driver shortage. There is a pay shortage. Make the salary high enough to attract drivers and they will fill the seats. Simple supply and demand.

  7. Curious, you always claim shortages same as in the mechanical field yet you fail to address the simple things such as MONEY it is the single biggest thing drivers paid .50 a mile unreal no detention money have to fight for everything junk equipment. What happened to the 6 digit days? Cheap cheap foreign labor cheap brokers on and on. Its okay though auto driving trucks will fix everything. Bottom line there is NO MONEY in it anymore. Sad truly sad

  8. First there is too much cheap freight and carriers keep hauling it. If you cannot afford to haul the freight refuse it. You want to make trucking safer??? Easy just make people go thru an accredited school and if a person cannot pass with high enough score refuse them. Quit hiring unqualified people and make people drive manual trucks. Too much regulation and too much media and social media needs to be removed from trucking