Drivers Shortage, Service Rules and Pay Top Trucking’s Concerns

October 07, 2019 by Jerry Hirsch, @Jerryhirsch

The American Transportation Research Institute published its annual list of trucking’s top concerns. A shortage of drivers, limits on driving hours and driver pay make up the top three.

Here’s what ATRI is saying about the problems plaguing the industry. These are the top three of a list of 10. It’s based on a survey of trucking industry stakeholders. ATRI presented the list at the American Trucking Associations’ annual conference in San Diego on Monday.

1. DRIVERS SHORTAGE

For the third consecutive year, the drivers shortage tops the list of industry concerns among all respondents.

They said the industry struggles to recruit and retain qualified drivers. The ATA, the group’s parent, estimates the industry needs 60,000 drivers. The shortfall could grow to 100,000 drivers over the next five years.

One segment of the industry, long-haul trucking, has the least success hiring and keeping drivers. Although the freight market has softened compared to the prior two years, motor carriers say they still need drivers.

YOUNGER DRIVERS

ATRI listed several potential policies that could alleviate the shortage.

One would allow trained drivers, age 18- to 20-years, to haul interstate loads. Federal regulations don’t allow drivers that young. But 48 states allow 18- to 20-year-olds to operate commercial vehicles within their state borders. ATRI said comparing the records of those drivers to the industry as a whole is an easy way to demonstrate whether allowing young truckers cross state lines reduces safety. The group also noted that many of the routes young truckers drive within large states such as California and Texas are far longer than interstate routes in many regions of the U.S.

Nearly a third of the industry’s workforce is more than 55-years-old. That “puts significant pressure on the industry to increase the available pool of qualified truck drivers,” the trade group said.

“Faced with a pending wave of driver retirements, 47.3 percent of the respondents indicated that the industry must continue to work with state and federal authorities to attract a new generation of qualified drivers to the industry,” ATRI said.

FEMALE DRIVERS

The trucking industry also should do a better job of recruiting women and minorities. The truck driver population is comprised of 6.6 percent females and 40.4 percent minorities, according to federal data. Expanding both populations is viewed by 22.3 percent of respondents as a top strategy to mitigate the driver shortage.

It also could improve safety. Female drivers outperform males in every statistically significant driving behavior, ATRI said. Male drivers have a 20 percent higher crash rate than females.

2. HOURS OF SERVICE RULES

The hours of service rule is meant to reduce driver fatigue that could lead to crashes. It limits driving to no more than 11 hours a day within a 14-hour workday. Drivers must then be off duty for 10 consecutive hours.

The trucking industry has argued that the regulation needs changes to provide flexibility. That’s why the rule ranks second on the list of top concerns.

MORE FLEXIBILITY

Respondents supported a change that would allow drivers to split their off-duty time into an 8- and 2-hour, or 7- and 3-hour shifts, with neither period counting against the 14-hour driving window. That change would allow drivers to rest when tired. It also would allow truckers to adjust their driving schedules to avoid some of the worst congestion chokepoints.

Another change under consideration involves eliminating a mandatory 30-minute rest break after eight hours of driving. ATRI’s report said that the industry needs to research and quantify the impact of the 30-minute rest break requirement on truck parking shortages. 

“The lack of available safe parking for commercial drivers has been well documented,” ATRI said. Drivers frequently park in unauthorized or undesignated parking locations because they can’t find spots elsewhere. They also lose driving time searching for available parking.

The Department of Transportation also should be examining how highly automated trucks might reduce driver fatigue and allow for more hours of operation. Almost 10 percent of respondents said the government should define what changes could be made to the hours of service rules once drivers are operating highly automated trucks.

3. DRIVER PAY

Trucker pay ranked third on the list of top concerns. This was the first year it made the list.

ATRI said it came up this year because motor carriers are responding to the driver shortage by significantly increasing driver pay. There also are a greater variety of compensation plans in the industry. These include pay by the mile, salary, pay by load and other formats.

“While drivers are benefitting from increased pay, there is concern that driver compensation has not kept pace with inflation and that drivers are not compensated adequately for non-driving duties,” ATRI said.

COMPARE PAY BETWEEN INDUSTRIES

The respondents said trucking fleets compete with other industries that may offer similar or slightly better pay but also provide workers the opportunity to be at home every night. There may be better ways to compensate truckers for the time they spend away from home.

The industry also should research the relationship between driver compensation models and driver satisfaction and productivity. Greater standardization and parity in pay approaches could allow fleets to focus on non-pay differentiators to attract new drivers such as home time and equipment quality, ATRI said.

ATRI publishes its list to generate a prioritized tally of top industry concerns. This year’s survey generated 2,119 responses – a 37 percent increase compared with 2018. Motor carriers represented 51.1 percent of respondents; commercial drivers, 35.3 percent; and other industry stakeholders, 13.7 percent.

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