ATA’s new estimates show the trucking industry is short roughly 78,000 drivers, Costello told attendees of the association’s Management Conference and Exhibition in San Diego Oct. 25. “That’s down slightly from 2021’s record of more than 81,000 – but still extremely high historically.” Those 2021 numbers also were revised upward slightly.
ATA calculates the shortage estimates by determining the difference between the number of drivers currently in the market and the optimal number of drivers based on freight demand.
“The good news is rising pay and other factors have helped the industry attract new drivers,” Costello said. “However, that influx is still not enough to make a substantive difference in the shortage – particularly in the long-haul, for-hire truckload sector, the part of the industry most acutely impacted by the shortage.”
Costello also cautioned the audience not to look at trucking employment numbers and think that means an overall increase in drivers. That number reflects employee drivers only, not owner-operator independent contractors. ATA’s driver shortage numbers include both.
Costello noted that many drivers decided to strike out on their own as independent owner-operators with their own authority in the past couple of years to take advantage of record spot rates. However, a softening spot market and high fuel prices are driving many of them to go back to driving for a motor carrier as a leased owner-operator.
Among the report’s findings:
- Based on current driver demographic trends, as well as projected growth in freight demand, the shortage could swell to more than 160,000 over the next decade.
- To keep up with demand, the industry must hire nearly 1.2 million new drivers over the next decade to replace those leaving trucking either through retirement or for other reasons.
- There are a number of causes of the shortage, which means there is no single solution. However, the shortage is having an impact on driver pay, pushing it up significantly.
- The shortage is not unique to the United States – Germany, Italy, Argentina, Mexico and China have all reported shortages of drivers in the past year.
“We’ve never seen a period before where quality of life was more important to the driver,” Costello said. With pay up, many drivers are choosing to drive less. “So it shows it’s not all about pay. But supply and demand worked (driving up pay).” With all the media publicity about the driver shortage and companies raising pay, he said, “I think the pay rates are being noticed,” and bringing more interest in the profession, “but ironically our productivity rates are probably getting dinged a little bit.”
ATA's full driver shortage report can be found here.