Last year, hours of service was number 2 on the list. This year it dropped to number 10. Insurance last year was an "emerging issue" that showed up at number 5 this year. - Courtesy ATRI

Last year, hours of service was number 2 on the list. This year it dropped to number 10. Insurance last year was an "emerging issue" that showed up at number 5 this year.

Courtesy ATRI

The shortage of drivers remains the most pressing issue affecting the trucking industry, according to the American Transportation Research Institute’s annual survey. Driver compensation and retention, parking shortage and soaring insurance premiums are among other key issues cited by ATRI’s 16th Top Industry Issues report.

“For the fourth year in a row, the driver shortage was the top industry issue overall, as well as topping the motor carrier list of concerns, highlighting the challenges fleets face in recruiting new talent and keeping their current drivers,” ATRI said. “In fact, driver retention was carriers’ No. 2 issue, and sixth on the combined list.”

The report was discussed Oct. 26 by a panel of experts at the American Trucking Associations’ virtual Management Conference and Exhibition.

“It is a very complex issue. We have had this for a number of years,” said Bob Costello, chief economist at ATA. “What is interesting is, the driver shortage went away in April and May, and now it is back as bad as ever. It is not going to go away anytime soon.”

Eric Fuller, president and CEO of U.S. Xpress, said more than 40,000 drivers have left the market in the past six months alone due to various reasons. “That is a big deficit that I don’t know can be filled in a short period of time."

Driver Compensation

Driver compensation was the No. 2 issue on the Top 10 list.

“The first time driver compensation showed up as an issue was on last year’s survey, when it came in at No. 3,” said Rebecca Brewster, president and COO of ATRI.

“Here’s just a little interesting factoid: The very first Top Industry Issues survey we did in 2005, driver shortage was the No. 2 issue that year, but the No. 1 strategy for dealing with driver shortage was listed as increased driver pay,” she said.

ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello (right) and driver Danny Smith talk about driver concerns. - Screen capture

ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello (right) and driver Danny Smith talk about driver concerns.

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Danny Smith, America’s Road Team Captain and a driver with Big G Express, said there are multiple things that could affect compensation. They include detention, hours of service and retention.

The panelists agreed that drivers deserve better compensation.

“I have yet to find a fleet that said drivers don’t deserve (better pay). In fact, they deserve a lot more,” said Costello. “But in an industry running on such thin margins, how do you pay that?"

Fuller said the driver’s situation is very difficult and it is hard to find drivers in this environment. “So, I think pay has to go up.”

The Economy

The report named the economy as the No. 8 issue, up two spots from last year, drawing Costello’s attention.

“Think about it! There we are, in a global pandemic. We just saw the steepest yet shortest recession in history. And it is only at No. 8,” he said. “I think that just speaks volumes for where we are as an industry in the economic cycle right now.

Here are the Top 10 issues identified by ATRI:

  1. Driver shortage
  2. Driver compensation
  3. Truck parking  
  4. Compliance, safety and accountability
  5. Insurance availability and cost
  6. Driver retention
  7. Tort reform
  8. The economy
  9. Driver detention
  10. Hours of service

More than 1,000 truck drivers responded to the survey. Parking, compensation and detention were their top concerns.

“The first time driver compensation showed up as an issue was on last year’s survey, when it came in at No. 3,” said  Rebecca Brewster, president and COO of ATRI. - Screen capture

“The first time driver compensation showed up as an issue was on last year’s survey, when it came in at No. 3,” said  Rebecca Brewster, president and COO of ATRI.

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In all, ATRI received responses from 3,122 truck drivers, motor carriers, and other industry stakeholders – an all-time record for the 16-year-old survey, the organization said.

“Having such a robust sample gives us a very accurate picture of what issues are of most concern to the trucking industry,” said ATRI’s Brewster. “With this information, the industry can best target its resources to address trucking’s concerns.”

Abdul Latheef is associate editor of Today's Trucking. where this article originally appeared, and was used with permission from Newcom Media as part of a cooperative editorial agreement.

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