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Truck driver shortage may reach 900,000 by 2027

The industry’s recruitment and retention problems are compounded by increased federal and state regulations, a competitive job market and time away from home.

   The U.S. trucking industry continues to struggle to find young people interested in transporting the nation’s commerce. 
   “It’s a hard job,” noted Jarred Winkel, commercial general manager for Schneider Port Logistics, at the Coalition of New England Companies for Trade (CONECT) conference in Newport, R.I., on Wednesday.
   The truck driver shortage has accelerated since 2010, with more than 217,000 new drivers currently being sought by the country’s trucking companies. By 2027, as many as 900,000 new drivers will be needed as more aging truckers leave the industry.
   The average age of the current truck drive pool in the U.S. is 55 years old, with the average retirement age at 63 years old.   
   Winkel said the industry’s recruitment and retention problems are compounded by increased federal and state regulations, a competitive job market and time spent away from home as a truck driver.
   The cost to install in-cab electronic logging devices to keep truck drivers compliant with federal hours of services regulations persuaded some owner-operators to leave the industry. 
   The trucking industry also has run up against various state marijuana legalizations, which have increasingly led to positive drug tests. 
   By January 2020, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) plans to implement an online database that will allow agency, commercial motor vehicle employers, state driver licensing agencies and law enforcement officials to identify – “in real-time” – commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders who have violated federal drug and alcohol testing program requirements.
   California is putting pressure on port drivers with unsettled traffic violations or court judgments. “If you continue to do business with a trucker on that list, you will be held accountable,” Winkel warned shippers. 
   Jobs closer to home attract many young people who would have otherwise considered truck driving as an occupation. For example, warehouse jobs compete heavily with the drayage industry for new recruits. “Some drayage drivers have become forklift operators,” Winkel said.
   Further competition for drayage drivers has come from Uber and Lyft driver services, as well as Amazon, said David McLaughlin, chief operating and financial officer for RoadOne IntermodaLogistics.
   Truck drivers make between $41,000 and $61,000, with drayage truckers at the lower end of that scale.
   Most drivers leave the industry within the first 90 days. “The Number 1 reason they’re leaving is respect,” McLaughlin said.
   Winkel said resolving the U.S. truck driving shortage will take an industry-wide effort, which includes discussions on offering prospective drivers more attractive pay. “We have to be an industry of choice.”
   In February, bipartisan legislation was introduced in both the House and Senate aimed at addressing the nation’s growing truck driver shortage. 
   The so-called DRIVE Safe Act received endorsement from a similarly named industry coalition co-led by the American Trucking Associations (ATA) and International Foodservice Distributors of America, which also includes the National Association of Manufacturers, National Restaurant Association, National Retail Federation, Retail Industry Leaders of America and more than 40 other national trade associations and companies.
   “Given the broad coalition of interests backing this measure, there is growing understanding across the country that the impact of this issue reaches far beyond just trucking and commercial vehicles,” said Chris Spear, ATA’s president and CEO, in a statement at the time. “It is a strain on the entire supply chain, from the manufacturers and producers on down to retail and the end consumer, who will see higher prices at the store.”
   While 48 states permit individuals to obtain a CDL and drive trucks at age 18, federal regulations prevent those drivers from crossing state lines until they turn 21. 
   The DRIVE Safe Act would allow certified CDL holders already permitted to drive intrastate the opportunity to participate in a rigorous apprenticeship program designed to help them master interstate driving, while also promoting enhanced safety training for emerging members of the workforce.
   Under the legislation, once a driver has met the requirements to obtain a CDL, he or she would begin a two-step program of additional training that includes performance benchmarks that each candidate must successfully complete. 
   In addition, these drivers would be required to complete at least 400 hours of on-duty time and 240 hours of driving time with an experienced driver in the cab with them. All trucks used for training in the program must be equipped with National Safety Transportation Board-endorsed safety technology including active braking collision mitigation systems, forward-facing video event capture and a speed governor set at 65 miles per hour, the DRIVE Safe Act Coalition said.
   All of these post-CDL training, safety and technology standards under the DRIVE Safe Act would be required on top of all the pre-CDL training benchmarks that new drivers will be required to satisfy when the FMCSA’s Entry Level Driver Training Rule takes effect in February 2020 and includes 59 topics of knowledge and behind-the-wheel training for Class A CDL applicants, the coalition said.

Chris Gillis

Located in the Washington, D.C. area, Chris Gillis primarily reports on regulatory and legislative topics that impact cross-border trade. He joined American Shipper in 1994, shortly after graduating from Mount St. Mary’s College in Emmitsburg, Md., with a degree in international business and economics.