Driver Shortage Could Hit All Time High This Year

October 22, 2017

By Deborah Lockridge

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From left, Derek Leathers, Rebecca Brewster, and Bob Costello talk numbers at ATA. Photo: Evan Lockridge
From left, Derek Leathers, Rebecca Brewster, and Bob Costello talk numbers at ATA. Photo: Evan Lockridge

ORLANDO – The trucking industry could be short 50,000 drivers by the end of 2017, warned American Trucking Associations Chief Economist Bob Costello Sunday at the American Trucking Associations Management Conference & Exhibition.

The driver shortage was a key part of a wide-ranging presentation called “How Do Your Numbers Stack up?”

According to the report, ATA’s first in-depth examination of the driver shortage since 2015, the driver shortage eased in 2016 to roughly 36,500 – down from 2015’s shortfall of 45,000.

“We experienced a ‘freight recession,’ last year, which eased the pressure on the driver market,” Costello said. “Now that freight volumes accelerating again, we should expect to see a significant tightening of the driver market.”

In the report, ATA projects the shortage to reach 50,000 by the end of 2017 and if current trends hold the shortage could grow to more than 174,000 by 2026.

Driver turnover at large truckload fleets, which hit an all time high of 130% in 2005, averaged 81% last year with the freight slowdown. But by the second half of this year, it was back up to 90%, Costello noted.

While 50,000 is an all time high for the industry, he said, it feels even worse. “There’s quality vs. quantity. This is where the shortage feels much worse.

If nothing improves and trends continue at the same rate, the industry could be short 174,000 drivers by 2026.
If nothing improves and trends continue at the same rate, the industry could be short 174,000 drivers by 2026.

Derek Leathers, president and CEO of Werner Enterprises, explained, “The real issue I think we’re all faced with is the quality driver shortage. The ability to find drivers who meet the quality expectations we all have. This summer we crested 100,000 applications for the year. The problem was the hire rate in terms of meeting quality criteria was 2.7%.”

Costello detailed the causes of the shortage in the report, including the demographics of the aging driver population, lifestyle issues, regulatory challenges and others; as well as possible solutions.

Over the next 10 years, he said, we need to attract almost 900,000 new people to the industry.

Demographics is a big part of the problem. ATA’s research arm, the American Transportation Research Institute, recently updated its demographic data on drivers and found some 57% of drivers are 45 or older. Only 4.4% are 20-24 years old, noted Rebecca Brewster, president and COO of ATRI.

“These demographics are daunting,” said Werner's Derek Leathers.
“These demographics are daunting,” said Werner's Derek Leathers.

“These demographics are daunting,” Leathers said. “I’m happy to report ours have moved about 10 years to the left, thanks to the focus we’ve put on bringing more young people in.”

“While the shortage is a persistent issue in our industry, motor carriers are constantly working to address it,” Costello said. “We already see fleets raising pay and offering other incentives to attract drivers. Fleets are also doing more to improve the lifestyle and image of the truck driver, but there are also policy changes like reducing the driver age as part of a graduated licensing system, or easing the transition for returning veterans, that can make getting into this industry easier and therefore help with the shortage.”

This led to a discussion of ATRI’s efforts to develop a younger driver assessment tool. The idea is to look at the characteristics of some of the industry’s best drivers and look at things such as personality traits, health, risk tolerance, age, attitudes regarding safety, and cognitive ability, and try to find younger candidates with similar traits.

“As we thread this needle as an industry,” Leathers said, “we’re going to have to bend over backwards to address every safety concern and some we probably haven’t thought of.”

Brewster noted that a new data point added to ATRI’s industry metrics this year was more granular data on incentives and bonuses. The average bonus safety bonus per driver was $1,499, the average on-time delivery bonus was $1.946, with an average $949 starting bonus and $1,143 retention bonus.”

Leathers mused, “Do these reflect what we stand for? In my mind what we ought to be doing is paying the folks in the truck in our fleet today and taking care of them every way we can. Put the money with the person who’s already proven they can do it,” rather than large sign on bonuses. “It’s nice to see more emphasis on safety, on-time and retention bonuses.”

For the full 2017 ATA Driver Shortage Report, click here.


  1. 1. Stringbean [ October 23, 2017 @ 08:16AM ]

    The ATA is helping create this driver shortage by promoting this ELD. I am not into this modern technology and I will be quitting. I hope they suffer for being so smart in promoting this thing.

  2. 2. Brian R Reagan [ October 23, 2017 @ 08:48AM ]

    Its far worse than any one can even imagine. The ELD's are going to put even more "qualified" drivers out of work, as ELD's are not the solution to the problem, and drivers with experience know that (myself included, who got out of the drivers seat this year, after 20 years). ELD's mean that companys are going to have to hire roughly 25% more than what they have on staff currently, to handle repowers, or lack of drivers with hours, which means also buying more trucks. But with no drivers in those seats, your screwed. All these ATA supporting members are going to realize, very shortly, that they shot their nose off despite their face.

    There are much simpler solutions to the ELD/HOS, but inbetween our government, and these ATA morons, no one will even look, or think, about it. These ATA supporters rather see the small companies, and OO's, go bankrupt, and try to solve the backlash, than try to fix the real problem.

  3. 3. Mark [ October 23, 2017 @ 07:37PM ]


  4. 4. Jason [ October 24, 2017 @ 07:28AM ]

    Brewster was concerned with only 4.4% of truckers in the 20-24 age bracket. Well, try and have a young driver put on your insurance policy and see what happens. They will either reject them, or charge you out the backside for them. I write commercial truck insurance, and deal with driver issues all day long. Now, opening up the market to under 24 yr old drivers is not something I am very excited about. Experience and maturity are the key concerns. I know, your nephew or kid is the best driver you've ever seen. I hear that a lot, then the god-send gets violations, speeding tickers, claims and is off the policy in a few months. I never say "I told you so", but I have wanted to many times. For younger drivers, we need to develop them, and not just throw them behind the wheel and send them cross country. This is where it gets difficult, because the cost of teaming them for a year or more is high. Everybody wants instant gratification, but that is the fast food approach, and fast food isn't the best thing on earth. We need to develop drivers, and then reap the benefits of this development for many years down the road. If you put a 22 year old teamed up with another driver for a year or so, you will create an experienced and educated driver. Would you rather have him drive for your company for the next 10+ years? Or would you rather keep slapping knuckleheads behind the wheel every 3 months for the next ten years? The cost to properly train will outweigh the instant gratification of filling the wheel in the long run. Just think of the insurance savings. You'll have a trained and trusted operator that will help your

  5. 5. Grant [ October 30, 2017 @ 06:51AM ]

    That is well spoken Jason. Really like the driver training team idea. These companies are really going to have to invest in their drivers and work on retention programs to keep them. They're going to have to spend that money to continue making money!

  6. 6. F350ford [ December 12, 2017 @ 10:42AM ]

    It's not the elogs that are the problem. Parking is the problem. Sending drivers out over the roads without any help to have a safe place to shutdown for their breaks . If everyone wants safer roads give me a safe haven on the road to stop for my shutdown. Not a crackhead filled truckstop . Make the roads safer for truck drivers , we are part of the traveling public too. Having to deal with the bad driver's that thinkle we have have no reason to be on the roads. Wake up people let's fix the problems not start new ones . Truck driving sucks anymore . And I am tired of hearing from people that have no clue about it. Just my thoughts.


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