In the third quarter of 2009, line-haul driver turnover was at its lowest rate among large truckload carriers since the data has been collected in 1995
Until freight picks back up, drivers will likely stay put. (Photo courtesy of MTS Driver Recruiters)
Until freight picks back up, drivers will likely stay put. (Photo courtesy of MTS Driver Recruiters)
, according to the American Trucking Associations' Trucking Activity Report for the third quarter. Turnover at large carriers was down 9 percent from the second quarter to 43 percent, the same as small truckload fleets.

"The last time large and small TL turnover rates were identical during a quarter was in the first quarter of 2001 (87 percent)," said Bob Costello, chief economist at ATA.

Costello attributes the low turnover rate to the fact that drivers are not jumping from carrier to carrier as they usually do. Because of the state of the economy, drivers don't have the luxury of jumping around, and there's simply not enough freight to support a certain number of employees, Costello says.

Turnover in the less-than-truckload sector, which has historically been low, was at 10 percent in the third quarter.

"There's just not a whole lot of options," commented Chris Burruss, president of the Truckload Carriers Association. He says fleets are not looking for drivers, but rather for places to park their trucks.

News of low turnover in the industry could become a problem long-term, Burruss says, as it masks what will likely happen when the economic conditions turn around.

"The driver shortage is not going away," he said. "That demand will come back."

And while demand and freight need to pick back up in order for carriers to start hiring again, Burruss believes the underlying problems that caused the previous driver shortage haven't changed. If fleets don't recognize and address these problems, they may be faced with an even harder task of filling trucks once things bounce back, he adds.

The anticipated increase in freight coupled with the aging workforce within the driver community will put pressure on fleets in trying to identify a new pool of drivers, he says.

"I think we're going to see those pressures come to bear."

According to ATA's report, employment within the industry didn't fare any better, with payrolls down 0.7 percent and 0.6 percent among large and small truckload carriers, respectively. This was the twelfth straight decrease for large carriers and the tenth for small ones.