What is Causing the Truck Driver Shortage And How Can It Be Resolved?

The truck driver has been a staple in the American supply chain for more than a century. From transporting livestock across the country to delivering gasoline to service stations, the efficient movement of freight is only possible when an ample supply of qualified truck drivers exists. Unfortunately, the United States, in fact, the global logistics community is suffering a realistic truck driver shortage that is causing delays in shipments, increased costs, and may eventually lead to significant problems in global commerce.

The truck driver shortage is very real. In fact, it’s estimated by the American Trucking Association that more than 50,000 CDL licensed truck drivers are missing from the US marketplace. It’s estimated that this number will significantly increase as older drivers decide to exit the industry to retirement.

There are several causes of the truck driver shortage and just as many impacts it has on the supply chain. In the information below, we’ll document 4 of the leading causes of the current truck driver shortage we’re experiencing, and a few ways it can be resolved.

A Change in Culture

Ask anyone above the age of 35 and you’ll often hear that there has been a significant change in culture since the turn of the century. With the integration of smartphones, tech and manufacturing-related jobs, and other geopolitical factors, today’s new workforce is simply different than in years past. The prospect of driving a truck for a living, eating fast-food, working inconsistent hours, and navigating a 53-foot semi-truck and trailer is simply not as attractive as it once was.

To combat this problem, many transportation companies are spending millions of dollars annually on marketing campaigns to attract new blood to become truck drivers. In fact, many are offering paid training, bonuses, and increasing their benefits and base rates considerably.

An Aging Driver Demographic

While some of these marketing and hiring efforts are beginning to work, the trucking industry is facing another realistic fact – the baby boomers are retiring. The boomer generation is well represented in the current truck driver segment. However, as these aging drivers get older, many are choosing to retire. When more people retire than are entering any working segment, a shortage of qualified workers will be created.

CDL’s Require Medical Physicals

One of the requirements in order to become a professional truck driver is to obtain and retain a commercial driver’s license. While each US state has unique requirements to receive their CDL, one common requirement is passing an annual CDL physical. One item specifically that is included in a CDL physical (which is also a part of an FAA physical for pilots) is reviewing a candidates A1C or hemoglobin A1C specifically.

For those who are not aware of this medical term, A1C is essentially the average blood glucose level your body maintains over a three-month period. Since truck driving is a job that requires sitting for multiple hours, and not a lot of physical activity, along with intake of carbohydrate-rich diets, a rise in A1C – and thus, an official diagnosis of Type II Diabetes is causing a significant issue with CDL renewals among truck drivers. Current CDL and FAA physical standards prohibit the operation of a commercial vehicle if the applicant is diagnosed with this manageable disease.

Through proper diet, lifestyle changes, exercise, and medication, people can reduce their A1C and 100% control their diabetes to operate equipment without issues. However, until standards are addressed and revised by the Federal Government, more truck drivers will fail their CDL physicals and continue to reduce the number of experienced truck drivers.

Truck Driving is a Not a Glamorous Lifestyle

Living on the road for weeks or months at a time, sleeping in a truck, eating at diners or fast food, and taking showers in public facilities is not a lifestyle that appeals to many younger candidates. Many previous and current truck drivers also experience relationship issues and develop medical problems as we described above. Driving on icy or snow packed roads, dealing with inconsiderate commuters, and hours of traffic delays also lead to a lot of current truck drivers to seek employment elsewhere.

So, How Can this Problem Be Resolved?

Transportation companies are investing a lot of money and resources to try and answer the question above. One leading concept is increasing the compensation packages for over the road truck drivers. It’s estimated that a full-time truck driver working 40 hours per week can bring home more than $80,000 annually. Since most commercial drivers are non-college graduates, this average salary is among leaders for this amount of education. Another idea is incorporating self-driving or autonomous commercial trucks – however, this isn’t a reality for at least another five years at the minimum.

One item that all shippers, carriers, and logistics partners can all do to help resolve the current truck driver shortage is to simply be kind to their current drivers and patient with delayed deliveries due to traffic, weather or items outside the responsibility of the driver. Sometimes a simple “thank you” can go a long way in keeping somebody motivated to provide an otherwise thankless job.