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The for-hire trucking market does not have a driver shortage problem

The industry would benefit from less drivers

The industry driver shortage narrative is helping to destroy the truckload market’s economics by attracting more drivers and fleets to our industry. It plays well in truck driving schools and recruiting ads, but it creates more danger than good. By attracting more drivers and fleets into our industry, we are creating more capacity at a time when the market needs less of it. 

Trucking companies can have unseated trucks (i.e. not enough drivers to drive the trucks that the carrier owns), which is a driver shortage. But that is the carrier’s problem, not the market’s. There are plenty of carriers that have unseated trucks and it can bankrupt them if it becomes perpetual. 

A market can have a capacity shortage, in which the market doesn’t have enough trucks available for dispatch at a moment in time. That is a market problem. 

Capacity shortages are good for carriers and drivers alike. Rates go up when there is a shortage of capacity. Carriers, in turn, gain more volume, which encourages them to add trucks. Once the available pool of drivers is dried up for the new trucks, carriers increase wages and incentives to attract drivers to drive for their fleet. 

A capacity shortage is what happened in 2018. Driver wages and incentives shot up, as carriers fought aggressively for new drivers. As wages increased, new drivers joined the industry and a number of new fleets also began operations. They were told the shortage is perpetual and they should join the industry. Some new entrants decided to bypass joining a fleet altogether and joined the industry as an owner-operator. The thinking was that if there is a perpetual driver shortage, then carriers will always have pricing power.

Fast forward a year later and the situation is quite different. There is a glut of capacity on the road. Carriers have lost their pricing power. The market is oversupplied. The primary reason – there are too many drivers sitting in trucks available for dispatch. Further, the fact that there are many carriers supportive of efforts to reduce standards for new drivers is counter-intuitive from a supply/demand perspective. It may not be popular to say, but stronger regulations and standards can ultimately result in increased margins and driver pay for incumbent carriers. 

The only way to correct the capacity situation is either more freight volume or fewer drivers. Volumes are a function of economic demand, which is largely out of the industry’s control. The only thing the industry can control is the amount of capacity it adds or subtracts, and since drivers are truly the capacity constraint, the industry needs fewer drivers right now. 

Certainly, the recent bankruptcies may lower the number of fleets, but it doesn’t mean that drivers end up leaving the industry. They very well may start their own trucking company with a truck bought at their former employer’s bankruptcy auction, or they may go join another fleet that is still in operation. 

Total count of tractors from fleets authorized for hire (SONAR:TCFH.USA)

Registered FreightWaves SONAR users can play with this interactive chart by clicking here.

According to the new for-hire tractor count ticker inside of FreightWaves SONAR (TCFH.USA), the for-hire trucking industry has added 26,500 more trucks available for dispatch since November 2018. This works out to a growth of 1.8 percent.  

The industry would be better served with fewer drivers. And who could make this happen? 

The Federal government. 

Safety regulations like hair testing and the drug and alcohol clearinghouse might clean out a large percent of the driver population, which would create a massive capacity shortage. According to the Trucking Alliance, as many as 300,000 of all truck drivers on the road would currently fail a hair test. 

Truck drivers that would fail these tests are hired by fleets that don’t have stringent background and underwriting requirements. In an effort to prevent a driver shortage in their fleet, the owners put these drivers behind the wheel, without regard to anyone’s safety, reputation, or risk of criminal negligence if the owner had knowledge that an addict was behind the wheel.

With opioid addiction on the rise around the country, the opportunity to purge it from our industry – while gaining pricing power – is something anyone who operates cleanly should support. 

For fleets that have a history of hiring drivers with a drug addiction or alcohol incidents while on duty, a driver shortage would be the least of their concerns. 

For everyone else, when carriers, drivers, safety advocates and the general public are aligned, there shouldn’t be a shortage of support.


  1. Peter Moe

    Can you provide data on the number of drivers available for the same time period as the tractors?

    What I see in the industry, like tradeshows, the amount of recruiting activity for attracting drivers far outpaces business development activity.

    1. Jason Miller

      The data from the FMCSA shows a near perfect positive correlation (~0.97) between drivers and power units, so the two numbers are nearly identical (this statistic comes from recent academic research).

  2. charles johnson

    Driver shortage equals foreign immigrants being recruited from every third world country on the globe. These people are then hired as indentured servants. The indentured servant works for slave wages while trying to pay off his schooling. The employer cuts rates to the bare bone to take freight away from the legitimate carriers and ends up filing bankruptcy on his debtors. I say this from thirty three years experience working for true honest companys who had to compete with these fly by night scams. Are you aware of the recent scandal on the West Coast docks where these immigrants were being paid pennies and the big shippers had to step in to stop this con game before they were held liable for their part. Your view of the labor situation is an absolute fantasy!

  3. Rick Blatter


    “Driver SHORTAGE”…

    “NARRATIVE” is the perfect politically correct word to describe this hoax that has been repeated and perpetuated for decades.

    Fake News would also be an appropriate adjective. It’s a narrative in order to promote an Agenda by certain players in the industry, those who profit from Low Paid Unqualified Labor.

    But this is what makes our highways so DANGEROUS. Unqualified & dubiously trained labor.

    The REAL SOLUTION, which has worked everywhere else, is FAIR LABOR LAWS that apply to EVERYONE ELSE in Society, except Truckers.

    If drivers had FAIR PAY & DECENT WORKING CONDITIONS there would be NO NEED for ELDs, there would be no “DRIVER SHORTAGE”, and “tired drivers” would not be an issue!!!

    Pilots don’t seem to “NEED” ELDs, now why would that be?!

    Furthermore, “Driver Training” issues would also MIRACULOUSLY DISAPPEAR because COMPETENT, QUALIFIED, SAFE, EXPERIENCED DRIVERS would stay in the industry rather than FLEE at the very first opportunity of BETTER PAY, BETTER WORKING CONDITIONS, RESPECT & QUALITY OF LIFE elsewhere.

    HOME TIME: 52 weekends per year equals 104  DAYS  OFF for “regular workers”, PLUS HOLIDAYS!

    It has come to my attention that the “average Long-Haul Trucker” is “permitted to take off approximately 60 days per year”! Otherwise they either lose an “assigned truck”, or their job.

    When Professional Truck Drivers are AWAY FROM HOME 24 hrs per day, 5-7-10 days or more per week, they need JUST AS MUCH TIME OFF, (104 days, not just ~60 days off), if not more time off in order to RECUPERATE, REJUVENATE… REST than “regular workers”. This because Truckers are ON DUTY or ON CALL 24 hrs per day, DOUBLE and sometimes TRIPLE SHIFTS when things go wrong. ELDs do not measure this!

    ELDs do not measure all working nor waking hours. They do not measure WASTED TIME, which is the REAL “DANGEROUS” ISSUE in trucking!

    ELDs only measure DRIVING TIME. This is NOT THE CRITICAL FACTOR in the VAST MAJORITY of “FATIGUED DRIVING” incidences! But we were given the “NARRATIVE” that this will MIRACULOUSLY solve all the safety problems in trucking. Statistics do not agree.


    In 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced the Fair Labor Standards Act, which is also known as the Minimum Wage Law. The trucking industry was exempt from this, and driver pay was to be handled by the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC).

    The ICC was ABOLISHED long ago. 

    If FAIR LABOR STANDARDS applied to trucking there would be NO NEED FOR ELDs, and our roads would be SAFER…

    and there would be  NO “DRIVER SHORTAGE”.

    We have a SHORTAGE of qualified drivers willing to work for substandard pay & unacceptable working conditions ILLEGAL EVERYWHERE else in Society, except in trucking!?

    Before SELECTIVE DEREGULATION this all existed. 

    ONCE  UPON A TIME it was actually COMPANY POLICY to be courteous to EVERYONE, and to STOP to help stranded motorists! This was long before the pressure cooker policy (ELDs & “new HOS rules”) that has CAUSED MORE DEATHS, MORE INJURIES & MORE ACCIDENTS than anything concocted before.

    Watch “Wheels of Progress” on YouTube (~23mins) from about 1950 to see how trucking was run & “regulated” in the Golden SAFE YEARS:


    Way more truckers are dying since the ELD mandate:

    Rick Blatter  

    CTA Canadian Truckers Associations (

    ITA International Truckers Associations (

    ATA American Truckers Associations (

    1. Bill Hood

      “Pilots don’t seem to “NEED” ELDs, now why would that be?!”

      At some point, you should stop and think about what you are posting before posting.

      Drivers lost their damn minds with ELDs. They screamed long and hard for the right to work longer and harder.

      Imagine what would happen if we implement the types of tracking and controls on drivers that we in the cockpit. Most drivers say they would leave a carrier that implemented driver-facing cameras that recorded the last :30-:60 seconds before and event. And you think they would put up with a black box that not only recorded the whole trip but archived each trip.

      1. Rick Blatter

        This is exactly what I am advocating.

        It will eventually come.

        Pilots are not recorded with inward facing cameras. But voice transmission & all ENGINE DATA is recorded. For trucks this would include brakes.

        Your onboard computers may actually already have this capability.

        In accidents it would be very helpful to analyze what transpired to PREVENT same from happening in the future. As they do with aircraft crashes & mishaps.

        Sorry you have things to hide.

        YOU may want to work longer & “harder” until you drop, (or fall asleep at the wheel), but most PROFESSIONAL DRIVERS want to Stay Alive, be SAFE, get home in one piece, and have adequate REST and decent pay in order to be Professional, SAFE… and enjoy a REASONABLE QUALITY OF LIFE.

        70 hours per week would suffice rather than the 100 to 140 hours actually worked by the “average long-haul trucker”. And then only getting paid for about 50% of the work, with only mileage paid.

        With insurance coverage going from $750,000 to $4.5 Million in the not so distant future, the old accident prone model of trucking may become obsolete & too costly.

        SAFETY might become a necessity to stay in business.

  4. Linda Pena

    I am a new company. I have been unsure of this market but I live in a community that has apples and other fruits that are picked when in season. The work is steady and other drivers around this area just do this type of haul. I know I have a broker that can send me to doing hauls interstate but how do we now have more truckers than needed. It must be easy to do class hours and pass test. One comment that mentioned that there a lot of unqualified drivers and what I see is that it is so true.

  5. Sam

    Completely agree.
    Get aggressive CMV operators off the roads.
    Get substance abusing CMV operators off the roads.

    More work & better wages/drivers profits/companies for those who view it & treat it as a responsible profession.

    Great argument!
    As Captain Kirk would say, “make it so”

  6. Norman

    Sonthe solution is to use unfounded hair testing and eliminate drivers? In an industry woth an average turnover of 90%? Maybe you need hair testing and a psyche evaluation.

    1. Sam

      If someone’s on drugs, or cannot wait til they are home & done for the day to start drinking… they should not be operating a CMV. End of story.

      Substance abuse CMV operators should be eliminated from the industry… not ‘turned over’

      Companies that hire them & then shrug when loss of life ensues should be just as culpable… if not more.

  7. Adam

    I soon will be a 47 year old cdl licensed driver on the road I drove single axle box trucks for 15 years and I’ve seen noth good and bad commercial driver mainly in dump trucks in my area that drive like there late for the fresh donuts at the doughnut shop but I’ve see. Hundreds of 4 wheelers mostly on the damb phone cut big rigs off and its only a miracle they haven’t gotten run over I lived down the street from Es3 in York and I see big tight drivers all th ed time pull out in front of people just because they can we all need to slow down and get where were going safetly

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Craig Fuller, CEO at FreightWaves

Craig Fuller is CEO and Founder of FreightWaves, the only freight-focused organization that delivers a complete and comprehensive view of the freight and logistics market. FreightWaves’ news, content, market data, insights, analytics, innovative engagement and risk management tools are unprecedented and unmatched in the industry. Prior to founding FreightWaves, Fuller was the founder and CEO of TransCard, a fleet payment processor that was sold to US Bank. He also is a trucking industry veteran, having founded and managed the Xpress Direct division of US Xpress Enterprises, the largest provider of on-demand trucking services in North America.