Article after article in the trucking media has been talking about the shortage of available licensed CDL holders to drive over-the-road trucks. This topic has also made its way into mainstream media; news outlets are becoming aware there’s a huge problem on the horizon—and that horizon is a lot closer than ever before. According to the American Trucking Assns., there’s a shortage of nearly 48,000 qualified truckers today.

What are the causes of this trucker shortage?
With many of the Boomer generation nearing retirement age and far more stringent regulations covering their profession, many drivers are opting to retire early. These experienced truckers are saying loud and clear, “We’ve never needed anyone to babysit us. I’ll be damned if I’m going to work in an industry where I have millions of accident-free miles and yet be told I need to change my methods to be safe.” Sadly, this means the best and safest of the old-guard truckers are saying enough is enough.

Generation Xers and Millennials have far more lucrative career opportunities. Many have college degrees. Those without degrees have jobs that don’t require them to be away from home and family for long periods of time, and they can earn as much or more than what they’d earn as an entry-level trucker. Where’s the benefit of earning what equates to less than minimum wage when the time spent on the road is like being at work 24/7, yet you only earn money when the truck’s rolling? And with pay-by-the mile compensation, the more dangerous the job becomes—ice, snow, heavy rain, congestion, construction, etc.—the less a trucker earns.

New regulations along with speed limiters, electronic logging devices, and in-cab cameras are making people think twice about truck driving as a professional career. And those who do consider truck driving as a career go through training that is often limited and incomplete.
New regulations require a half-hour break within an 11-hour driving period, 10 hours of rest between each 11 hours of driving, and a place to park for 34 consecutive hours to restart your 70-hour clock. Finding a safe place to park with food service and restroom facilities is nearly impossible. The truck parking shortage isn’t new, but it seems to be getting worse. Even finding a place to park, safe or not, can take several hours and many times requires the trucker to exceed his or her hours-of-service limits.

Truckers must have those mandated rest periods. And they should be able to access safe, clean, full-service parking to get that rest. So, many times truckers will ask to park at the facility where they are picking up or making deliveries. Unfortunately, many times they are denied a parking space by a shipper or receiver stating they can only park while unloading and loading. In other words, they need to find somewhere else “to rest.”

Many cities and counties have “no trucks allowed” ordinances unless they’re delivering or picking up, and only when they’re loading or unloading. Now add this: Many truckers drive for a carrier where the terminal is hundreds of miles away from where the trucker lives. Most truck stops won’t allow a trucker who lives nearby to park there while at home. Businesses and cities have no truck parking policies, so the trucker is left with few options.

Training for entry-level truckers is rudimentary and incomplete at best. The vast majority of commercial truck driver schools teach their students how to pass the CDL tests but spend little if any time teaching them the skills and knowledge to operate a 70-plus-foot, 40-ton vehicle in the tight, real-world situations truckers face on a daily basis.

Once they have the CDL, these entry-level truck drivers are put into a trainer’s truck. The problem is a large majority of trainers have less than a year on the road themselves, and many have yet to experience winter driving conditions—but they’re the ones training the newest truckers.

The shortage of drivers is an extremely complex problem with multiple reasons as to why people enter the industry and exit it within a very few months—or don’t consider trucking at all. The carriers, logistics community (read that: shippers, receivers, freight brokers and 3PLs), and governments from federal to state to local must make the necessary changes. The problem will not solve itself.

Carriers need to devise a pay schedule that compensates truckers for all the time they’re with, or responsible for, a truck and trailer (loaded or empty). They need to be part of the parking solution and push for more reasonable regulations. Train the new trucker with the skills and knowledge to be safe, efficient and prosperous. Respect the truckers they hire. If they want truckers to stay, carriers must make sure they’re earning twice what they’d earn in a construction or related career that permits them to be home every night and on the weekends.

The logistics community also needs to become involved in helping find solutions—for the parking problems, for respecting the trucker’s time either by expediting loading and unloading processes, or by ensuring truckers are well-compensated for delays that are out of the driver’s control.

Governments need to step up to the plate and re-evaluate the regulations put on the trucking industry and particularly on truck drivers—and bring forth far more stringent and complete training criteria that will produce safe, knowledgeable truckers.

To attract quality, intelligent, well-trained safety-minded individuals who will stay with trucking, it all begins with respect. And that respect has to come from every corner of the industry—carriers, the logistics community, and government.