To most people who take a road trip on the interstate system, things seem business as usual. Trucks haul freight every which way, and nothing seems out of place. But those in the trucking and logistics industry know that something is indeed going on. It is no secret that there is a serious shortage of truckers, and that fact has wide-reaching consequences.
But how did we get here? Why is this happening? And what things can be done, if any, to alleviate the trucking shortage?
Why is this happening?
The trucking shortage is a result of a perfect storm of confluences. Regulations are one of the biggest parts of the issue. In 2004, a new federal rule tightened driving limits and off-duty requirements. It resulted in more drivers being required for the same number of routes. And in 2015, the government implemented the final electronic logging device (ELD) mandate rule. That made it impossible to fudge any numbers, further restricting what drivers could and couldn’t do.
The strong current economy is another factor. Similar labor-intensive and relatively low-skill jobs that compete with the same demographic of truck drivers, like construction, have had strong growth and do not carry the downside of being away from home for weeks at a time. And, of course, this is all happening concurrently with rapidly increasing demands of shipping thanks to Amazon and other online retailers.
How is it affecting logistics?
Perhaps the easier question to ask is ‘how isn’tit affecting logistics?’ The trucking shortage is naturally wreaking financial havoc on the trucking channel. According to the Labor Department, long-distance trucking costs grew by9.4% year-over-year in June, the largest such increase this decade. Some of that is going to the drivers, as trucking companies attempt to lure and retain drivers with larger salaries and signing bonuses.
The trucking shortage is also affecting prices elsewhere. Ocean freight, air freight, and rail freight costs have also increased as companies shocked by high trucking costs consistently turn to alternatives. And an extended trucking shortage could begin to hamper movement of goods and services enough overall to actively slow the economy.
What things can be done to alleviate it?
The single largest issue with the trucking shortage is simply a lack of available drivers. the simplest and quickest way to attract drivers is to make driving more lucrative. Trucking companies have already increased salaries and offered meaty signing bonuses, but to attract potential drivers that means making truck driving a better financial choice than, for instance, construction.
Another specific thing that can be done is to attempt to change regulations to lift burdens from the industry. Currently, federal law requires drivers to be at least 21 years of age to drive interstate routes. This law rules out a large set of potential drivers—recent high school graduates—that are looking for jobs. Thankfully for the trucking industry, there is movement to reverse this policy. A bill that would allow these drivers to operateinterstate trucking routes was introduced into the House of Representatives in March, and the Department of Transportation is planning to launch a pilot programto allow veterans under the age of 21 to drive interstate trucking routes.
On the horizon, driverless trucks could represent a long-term solution. But according to some analysts, such a comprehensive solution is years, if not decades, away.