All That's Trucking

Are Truck Drivers Finally Getting the Attention They Deserve?

Motor carriers are turning down business because they don't have enough truck drivers. Yet the latest turnover numbers are down, and industry hiring is up. Blog commentary by Deborah Lockridge, Editor in Chief

March 23, 2018

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Truck driver pay may finally be getting the attention it needs. Photo: Dupre Logistics
Truck driver pay may finally be getting the attention it needs. Photo: Dupre Logistics

I called Kyle Kottke, one of our Emerging Leaders from 2016, to talk about how things are going in the refrigerated business for an update for our upcoming May issue. Kottke Trucking is a third-generation interstate hauler, in operation since 1938.

“We’re nearly turning down as much work as we’re hauling,” he told me. But are they buying new equipment to handle some of that business they’re turning down? No. “Our pipeline for drivers is currently not very healthy, so we’re just replacing our equipment,” he said. In fact, they’re looking at having their first unseated truck.

This is hardly unusual, of course. We’re hearing the same story all over. Business is booming and drivers are scarce.

Many drivers, when they read articles about fleets facing a driver shortage, will tell you, it’s not a driver shortage, it’s a pay shortage. And we’ve seen a rash of pay raise announcements from fleets in the past several months like we’ve never seen before. Not only per-mile pay going up, but various bonuses, and some creative approaches to addressing driver benefits and overall compensation. (See my March editorial, Money Is Not the Only Thing That Speaks to Truck Drivers).

The latest release of ACT’s For-Hire Trucking Index showed fleet equipment purchase intentions are strong, that they have or plan to increase driver pay, and that they currently have power in contract negotiations with shippers.

The capacity crunch is allowing fleets to charge higher rates, which in turn in many cases are being used to pay drivers more.

As part of this month’s survey, ACT Research asked fleets about their drivers’ pay in the past and coming three months. “It was a near unanimous response from our fleet panel that they have or plan to increase driver pay,” said Kenny Vieth, ACT Research’s President and Senior Analyst. “Many respondents expressed concern about the industry’s practice of sign-on bonuses as a way of attracting new drivers.”

But is it possible that increased pay is having some effect?

Kottke Trucking says it's facing an unseated truck – a first, at least in a long time. Photo: Kottke Trucking
Kottke Trucking says it's facing an unseated truck – a first, at least in a long time. Photo: Kottke Trucking

American Trucking Associations this week reported that the driver turnover rate for truckload carriers fell in the final three months of 2017. But the rate remained higher than it was for the previous year, according to ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello.

“Despite this dip in turnover, the driver market remains tight and the driver shortage remains a real concern for fleets and the industry,” said Costello. “If the economic climate continues to improve, I expect both turnover and driver shortage concerns to rise in the near future.”

Why the drop? Costello pointed to a couple of likely reasons. “First, freight demand was very strong, which may have encouraged drivers to stay at their current fleet because they were making even better money with strong volumes. And second, many fleets implemented or announced pay increases last quarter, which may have disincentivized drivers from moving to new jobs.”

Meanwhile, FTR’s Jonathan Starks points out in the upcoming April issue of HDT that February 2018 was a milestone for employment in the for-hire trucking industry. The 1.47 million-plus payroll employees recorded by the Bureau of Labor Statistics was the highest level ever. It was also the most workers added in a single month since May 2015. In fact, trucking has added more jobs in each of the last three months than it had in any month since March 2017.

“It appears that wage increases, sign-on bonuses, and other recruiting tactics are paying off,” Starks says. “Moreover, an all-time high in employment levels comes a couple of months after the industry surely lost some drivers over the ELD mandate.” Of course it’s difficult to really know the true impact of ELDs, due to the delay in hard enforcement until April 1 and several temporary exemptions and waivers.

Orders for new trucks have been quite strong since last fall, with January orders nearly setting a record high for any single month. There were concerns that all of these orders couldn’t be filled by additional drivers, but the payroll increases, combined with strong increases in new authorities being issued, would seem to say otherwise.”


  1. 1. Kenny Scott [ March 26, 2018 @ 04:30AM ]

    Why would anybody want to drive a Otr truck. ELD takes all freeedom away, parking is a nightmare, costumers have done Zero to improve dock time, traffic is worst and you are forced to be in it,road conditions are junk, cost of living on the road is very high, family time is cut with Eld. After 45 years in this business I tell guys who ask about driving that you could work two jobs at home and make more family time and money than that of the Otr driver today. Pay should 98000 average but that would give today’s ceos a heart attack, after all they created this mess let them choke on it. But if you can find that $100,000 job take it. Good luck

  2. 2. Gary de Montigny [ March 26, 2018 @ 07:23AM ]

    Perhaps there is a driver shortage but it is not due to demand by shippers. More and more drivers are leaving the industry because there is an expectation for you to work for free or in many cases you have to fight for your pay. Last year I worked for three separate Transport companies and all missed payroll causing me serious financial distress. After 39 years in the industry without an accident or violation, I packed it in. I am not looking back!

  3. 3. Paul [ March 26, 2018 @ 10:11AM ]

    Want to know why there’s a driver shortage? Too damn many rules and regulations. The good drivers are leaving in know who I mean...the driver that’s smart enough to know when he’s tired without having some piece of crap mounted on the dash to TELL him when he’s tired! The driver who drives with courtesy...he’s all but gone...the guy who can park his truck next to yours without ripping your fenders off, he’s gone too. All replaced with jerk off rude “steering wheel holders” that couldn’t drive a thumbtack with a sledgehammer! If ELDs are so great, why do we HAVE to have them...people should be flocking to buy them on their own. I have made only 2 trips since I had to install one of these crap devices, and it’s either a race against the clock ticking in front of you, or succumb to the pressure and just shut down early and give away an hour or two so you don’t get stuck somewhere with no food or shower...politicians..,take your ELD and shove it where the sun don’t shine!

  4. 4. Ricardo [ March 26, 2018 @ 12:26PM ]

    Good day, I have done only three trips on this year. If there are a shortage on trucks, I don’t see it. Brokers are not paying enough to be in a rush with the new ELOG. Will probably give another trip on April the first just to see now how DOT or police would treat us with this new law, if they stop me more than two times the same trip, will just park and sell my truck. Be safe.

  5. 5. John [ March 26, 2018 @ 04:55PM ]

    I gave up otr. Cost of living on the road. Lost wages from sitting at docks waiting to get loaded/unloaded. Electronic devices dictating when I could drive, and when I couldn't. And they rarely matched up with how I felt. Having dispatchers treat me like a low rate person because I refused to drive when I was tired from sitting the better part of the day waiting for a load.
    I don't make as much money in my current job as I did otr, but my stress is less. I sleep in my bed at home every night. I get to spend as much time with my friends and family as I want. And I don't have to put up with asshat dispatchers and shipper/receivers.

  6. 6. MIke [ March 26, 2018 @ 07:08PM ]

    Noone is doing anything about the wait time at shipper and receivers. There should be at-least $75 an hour detention after one hour standard at all places. These big companies want all driver's to work for free and then complain about driver shortage. Shippers wake up and start working with small fleets directly if you want to help this logistics business. Most of the buisness is getting screwed up by big 3pl companies such as CHrobinson , TQL .

  7. 7. Roger [ March 27, 2018 @ 08:24AM ]

    Too much stress with Eld have to speed up my truck to make pick three four than brokers want the load on time traffic stupid drivers in 4 wheelers scale Dot pull u side of road eld tells when where to sleep too much

  8. 8. Steve webster [ April 09, 2018 @ 07:45PM ]

    Many other jobs paying better money in Ontario .trucking companies need to pay O.T.R. drivers 1.9 times the minimum wage or at least as much as policeman or fireman or teachers make on a per hour plus overtime after 10 hours per day or 50 hours per week at one night in a hotel every 13 days for their reset if not done at home. In 2006 the Fed government in Canada trye d to get trucking a skilled trade and increase min training standards like what Ontario is trying to do now and bring in a skilled trade wage for truck drivers with more than 3000hours experience . Many large companies stopped them from doing this .Since 1995 trucking has been called the male Nanny program as a way to get into Canada and drive truck for a minimum of 3 years for very low wages

  9. 9. Brian [ April 10, 2018 @ 08:39AM ]

    We are one of the few companys that are not having a driver shortage. All of our trucks are seated. With that said, our company drivers are making right around 90-100k, and are home frequently, Trucks that are not older than 3 years old, and go faster than 62 MPH (governed at 75).

    The biggest problem we are having is that we have strict safety polices in place. We get a bunch of drivers trying to use and abuse the system. We drive legal here, and they go home without a job if they cant follow the rules.

    We have only seen a very mild impact from the ELD mandate. But we ran legal before the ELD mandate, so it was easy to make the switch.

    The problems we face currently is finding O/O. We have more freight than we can handle, and there are so many O/O leaving the industry, that we may have to consider turning down freight, for the first time in our companys history.

  10. 10. Chuck [ April 11, 2018 @ 06:05AM ]

    ELDs !! have handicapped the workers and increased stress dramatically. LOWERING PAY. This is the result, congrats to a progressive overboard government. Woo Hoo.

  11. 11. Chuck [ April 11, 2018 @ 06:06AM ]

    What good is increased pay per mile when the ELD doesn't let you drive to get those miles.... When you feel good to do so !!!
    ELDs also have dramatically increased stress because THEY FORCE you to work when you're tired and force you to sleep when your not tired. IT'S ALL ABOUT GOVERNMENT CONTROL.

  12. 12. Chuck [ April 11, 2018 @ 06:10AM ]

    Too much stress caused by the Govt mandated ELD box in trucks now. NOT WORTH THE PAY SCALE !!
    Any young person with half a brain wouldn't want to deal with the regulations forced on a truck driver..... On top of the BRUTAL working environment and HOSTILE car drivers !!

  13. 13. Richard [ April 17, 2018 @ 09:33AM ]

    I have said it many many times, just take time off and let the freight rot.
    Tankers first, ALL tankers especially medical gasses and highly perishable items.
    If people get sick or die, so what?
    I am proud to say I ran 3 log books when necessary and never got one citation and made damn good money.
    If the money is not there walk away and quit doing ANYTHING for free.
    The ONLY reason to work is for MONEY and if it is not there GET THE HELL OUT and quit whining!


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Author Bio

Deborah Lockridge

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All That's Trucking blog is just that – the editor's take on anything and everything related to trucking, with the help of guest posts from other HDT editors. Author Deborah Lockridge's career as an award-winning trucking journalist started in 1990.


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