Driver issuesNews

Top 5 overlooked reasons for truck driver constraint

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Whether you want to call it a shortage or a “driver retention” issue is semantics. There’s a “capacity crunch,” and the issue is not a new one for the trucking industry. According to a 1998 report published in the Monthly Labor Review, deregulation led 586,000 new trucking employees to enter the industry between 1980 and 1994. Still, with the large entrance of new trucking companies, driver shortages were a major issue, as the resulting increased competition and low trucking margins pressured driver wages and made recruitment difficult. According to the ATA, “To move 9.2 billion tons of freight annually requires nearly 3 million heavy-duty Class 8 trucks and over 3 million truck drivers.” America needs truck drivers.

In addition to the persistent need for more drivers within a fragmented industry, there are additional headwinds that the trucking industry faces makes trucker recruitment difficult, particularly regarding younger drivers.

1. Commercial Drivers License (CDL) requirements 

The industry misses out in recruiting drivers after high school graduation, as the federal requirement is that interstate CDL holders be 21 years or older. As such, many potential young drivers are lost to other occupations, additional schooling, or military service. Additionally, for insurance requirements, the minimum age is bumped to 25 years for certain segments of the trucking industry, like hazmat or long-haul trucking. Finally, the time and financial requirements to attain a CDL is a detraction for some individuals, especially in a tight overall labor market. A CDL generally requires several weeks of training and testing, as well as tuition at a CDL school that can run as high as $7k.

2. Competition from other trucking sectors 

The growth in e-commerce (i.e., the Amazon effect) has greatly increased the need for trucking in other sectors. Separately, the growth of Uber and Lyft has created competition for drivers in the non-CDL arena. As such, companies that are recruiting drivers for the oil sector, many of which are centered in remote locations, face increased competition from potentially more attractive driver positions in other segments and geographies.

3. Discouraging immigrant drivers

Or least keeping the issue quiet. Last year Fleet Owner reached out to eight industry stakeholders with multiple phone calls and email messages to discuss immigrants in the U.S. trucking industry and either received no response or the equivalent of “no comment.” But the reluctance to speak about the issue flies in the face of the fact that recruitment of immigrant drivers appears to be successful.

Currently, of the 1.2 million motor carrier-employed U.S. truck drivers (operating Class 8 trucks) about 224,722 or 18.6% are immigrants, according to U.S. Census data for 2011-2015 as analyzed by Justin Lowry, PhD, a Postdoctoral Researcher at George Mason University’s Institute for Immigration Research. Figures for 2010-2012 clocked in at 15.7%, he said.

If you are a foreign worker hoping to work as a truck driver in the US, you may be served best by applying for an H-2B Visa. Then, you have to secure an eligible job offer from an employer who has the necessary paperwork on their end, including a temporary labor certification for H-2B workers and successful submission and approval of Form I-129. Without a job offer and an employer to sponsor you, you can’t apply for the visa. USCIS (US Citizen and Immigration Services) states that your potential employer must also verify that the work will be temporary (under 12 months), prove a shortage of available US workers, and verify your experience in your field. The job must also offer payment equal to the prevailing wage for truck drivers where the company is located. And the current structure of the Visas don’t consider truck drivers “skilled labor.” Ouch.

4. Health Considerations 

In today’s more health-conscious society, it’s quite obvious to most job seekers that a position as a truck driver doesn’t promote one’s overall physical wellbeing. As to be expected with a stationary job, studies have shown that truck drivers on average have higher levels of obesity and lower life expectancies than most other occupations. The ATRI has proposed several initiatives to address this issue, including encouraging exercise facilities and healthy food choices at truck stops and travel plazas. Still, it seems health concerns will continue to negatively impact the attractiveness of the job for many potential drivers.

5. Drug testing 

As FreightWaves has previously reported, six major carriers have asked the FMCSA for an exemption from urinalysis so they can switch exclusively to hair testing: J.B. Hunt, Schneider, Werner, Knight, Dupre Logistics, and Maverick. Schneider in particular said that by conducting side-by-side hair and urine screening, the company discovered that hair tests yield positive results at four times the rate of urinalysis.

Sadly, many companies report that the ability to pass a drug test has become more difficult for many job applicants. This issue disqualifies applicants for many positions, not just truck drivers. (Although successfully passing a drug test seems particularly important to operating a truck or any large piece of mobile equipment.) Also, the trend to follicle drug testing, rather than urine testing, has enhanced the detection of illegal substances in an applicant’s body and has led to higher levels of drug test failures reported to companies. While it may help with safety and insurance costs, it’s yet another prohibiting factory in the stubborn issue of supply and demand for Over the Road truckers.

The issue is complicated and fragmented, but whether you define it as a “shortage” or a “retention” issue, the question is: What’s being done about it?

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Chad Prevost

Chad is radio host and broadcast media specialist for FreightWaves.

One Comment

  1. When I read the headline I wanted to scream – "There is no driver shortage." We agree that there is a capacity crunch. As a one truck owner operator I think that is a great thing. It should force the industry to recognize a basic truth. We attract enough new recruits. We don’t keep them. We need to figure out how to keep quality people behind the wheel.

  2. The truth is that drivers are underpaid.
    Many hours waiting at docks is not paid; the last two trip to California, I wanted 48 hours and was paid $50 each event, as produce was delayed coming from fields.
    This was NOT my fault or acceptable. But, I was away from my family
    I took a different job as I returned to NY.

    The paid by the mile design is causing capacity shortage. Many people, drivers, are tired of the situation.

  3. The sad truth is that truck drivers are vastly underpaid for what they do. Let’s be honest, truckers are what keeps this country moving. Without truck drivers there would be nothing for anyone to buy. No cars, no fuel for their cars, no food, no clothes, no electronics, etc. Factories would shut down because they would no longer be getting the raw materials they need to manufacture or produce anything. While doing this, truckers spend the majority of their time away from their families, dealing with ungodly traffic. Add to that the fact that truckers are held to extreme standards and blamed first if anything goes wrong. Last year, I drove 225000 miles, that is more than most people drive in 22 years. Another point that I will bring up is that truckers are a bit overregulated now. It is required that truckers take a 10 hour break every day, but we still can’t exceed 70 hours in 7 days. Once we hit 70 hours we have to take a 34 hour reset, which means we have to sit for a day and a half. Surgeons aren’t required to do anything like that and they are operating on people and from what I understand working more hours consecutively than truckers can. Additionally, most truckers are paid by the mile, which if you are a company driver means that you are earning somewhere under $.50 per mile. So if you need to make $1000.00 a paycheck, you have to drive over 2000 miles per week, and many drivers make between $.35-$.45 per mile. So is it any wonder that there is a shortage of truckers?

  4. One of the factors listed as hurting driver recruiting here is one of the main reasons why wages are suppressed, and have been for a long time, immigrant drivers. The H2B Visa program has artificially lowered driver wages as more and more companies import cheap indentured slaves from Africa to work driving trucks. Not only are these H2B Visa drivers not good for wages, they are outright dangerous on the roads and represent a clear and present danger to national security because they are not, and cannot be properly vetted.

    Companies must raise their rates, demand their drivers be treated with respect by shippers, receivers, and law enforcement, treat their drivers with respect themselves, and pay a professional level salary if they want to reduce the constant turnover.

    I support a law stating that all operators, owners, and drivers of any commercial vehicle must be natural born United States citizens. There are already laws (being circumvented) to prevent any non-citizen from being the principle owner of a motor carrier, the same should apply to drivers.

    By changing this law and taking the H2B Visa off the table it forces carriers to make long needed changes in the way they operate.