The driver shortage that’s been plaguing over-the-road, for-hire truckload carriers since at least 2004 reached a new high last year, according to Bob Costello, chief economist for the American Trucking Associations.
By the end of 2018, 60,800 more drivers than available were needed to meet the demand to haul freight, Costello stated in a press release issued on the July 24 rollout of ATA’s latest report on the shortage, which he co-authored.
In the report, Costello explains that the shortage rose higher last year (it stood at roughly 50,700 by 2017) thanks largely to robust freight volumes. “Over the past 15 years, we’ve watched the shortage rise and fall with economic trends, but it ballooned last year to the highest level we’ve seen to date
He said the combination of a “surging freight economy” and carriers’ need for qualified drivers could “severely disrupt the supply chain” going forward.
“The  increase in the driver shortage should be a warning to carriers, shippers and policymakers,” Costello stated, “because if conditions don’t change substantively, our industry could be short just over 100,000 drivers in five years and 160,000 drivers in 2028.”
In a conference call with reporters, Costello explained that ATA’s analysis of the shortage is based on a trend-line forecast. “That means it’s based on where thing stand now not changing” in the next several years. “The forecast is made assuming there will be the same demographics and it also assume there will be no changes in regulations for drivers.”
He noted that, yes, industry efforts such as raising driver pay, are helping combat the shortage. “The industry is growing drivers, but not fast enough.”
Running through some key demographics, Costello pointed out that the median age of over-the-road truck drivers is 46 and that some trucking segments have an even higher median age—it’s 57 for private fleet drivers.
Costello said that while women make up nearly 47% of all U.S. workers, they only comprise 6.6% of all truck drivers, according to the Department of Labor. He said the share of female drivers has remained “fairly stagnant,” between 4.5% and 6.6% since 2000. “This is a large, untapped portion of the population… Some trucking companies have put an emphasis on female drivers, but the highest percentage of female drivers we have seen is around 20% for those fleets.”
Asked by HDT if trucking could be doing more to recruit minorities to the ranks of truck drivers, Costello said “the minority percentage of truck drivers has gone up and we hear stories of [driver-training] schools going into inner cities. I think the industry is doing a fairly good job at this [recruiting minorities], but of course we can keep improving.”
Costello also mentioned some points of clarification about the shortage covered in the report. “The shortage probably seems much worse to carriers because we’re only talking about the quantity of drivers and they [fleets] also have to be concerned with the quality of the drivers they hire. He also stressed that “the driver shortage and driver turnover rates are not the same thing and turnover is not addressed in this report…. [turnover] is calculated completely differently.”
Turning to what can be done about the ongoing shortage, Costello pointed out that “just as there are many causes for the shortage, there is no one solution for it.”
In the report, he outlines a range of solutions, most of which are already being deployed by various fleets, including
- Driver pay increases
- More at-home time
- Improved driver image
- Better treatment and reduced wait times (at shippers)
- Transitioning military personnel to truck driving
- Lowering the age for interstate operation
“Over the next decade,” the report states, “the trucking industry will need to hire roughly 1.1 million new drivers, or an average of nearly 110,000 per year. Replacing retiring truck drivers will be by far the largest factor, accounting for over half of new driver hires (54%). The second largest factor will be industry growth, accounting for 25% of new driver hires.”
The report also delivers this blunt assessment: “The driver shortage is really a problem for the entire supply chain as 71.4% of all freight tonnage is moved on the nation’s highways.”