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What’s Causing the Commercial Driver Shortage?

Commercial trucking keeps America humming. In 2022 alone, truckers moved a staggering 11.46 billion tons of freight, equating to 72.6% of all domestic shipments and $940.8 billion in gross revenue. However, despite the nation’s reliance on commercial trucking, the number of driver vacancies continues to grow and has left many fleet managers scratching their heads. In this blog, we discuss issues surrounding the commercial driver shortage and explore potential solutions to help companies better retain their workforce.  

Download Now | Checklist: 7 Effective Strategies for Recruiting and Retaining Top-Notch Drivers 

Why Is There a Driver Shortage?

According to research from the American Trucking Associations (ATA), the United States could be short 160,000 drivers by 2028. The ATA believes that this number doesn’t reflect the total number of drivers that will be needed to fill the gap and offset turnover. Throughout this decade, the ATA predicts that the trucking industry will need to hire more than 1.1 million drivers – approximately 110,00 annually – to keep up with existing demand.

There are differing opinions, however, on why companies are struggling to fill their vacancies. Some argue that while specific fleets may experience driver shortages, the overall trucking market quickly corrects itself. The CEO of FreightWaves, Craig Fuller, suggests that the current difficult conditions in trucking are a result of “too much capacity chasing too little freight” and the growth of the small, independent fleet. 

On the other hand, there’s also data surrounding the following factors listed below.

Aging Workforce and Recruitment Difficulties

An aging workforce, coupled with high retirement rates, has left a significant void that’s not easy to fill. The median age of the American workforce is 41 years old, but the average truck driver is 46 years old. Consequently, many companies are actively recruiting a diverse group of younger, more inexperienced drivers to stay afloat.  

Economic Factors

With fuel costs, maintenance charges and nuclear verdicts on the rise, commercial fleets are struggling to stay afloat in today’s uncertain economic climate. To the shock of many, Yellow Corporation, which employed more than 30,000 truck drivers, declared bankruptcy in August of this year. This was the first time a commercial freight carrier has filed for bankruptcy in two decades, causing significant doubt about the long-term viability of the industry.  

Long Hours and Stressful Conditions

Long-haul trucking is hard work. Often, drivers are behind the wheel for up to 11 hours each day! On top of long hours, they’re expected to be alert, aware and prepared to navigate unfavorable road conditions. Truckers can burn out quickly without proper support from fleet managers and safety managers.  

A Closer Look at Driver Retention

Beyond the conflicting opinions on the cause of the driver shortage, we must also consider the fact that many companies are struggling to retain their drivers as well once they are hired on.

The US Department of Transportation (DOT) estimates that out of all long-haul truck drivers – those who cover 250 miles or more for a single delivery – 90% turnover annually. The retention rate for short-haul drivers is slightly better at 72%, but still reflects widespread staffing difficulties.  

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) has long argued that this proves a driver retention problem rather than a shortage issue. OOIDA points out that with 400,000 individuals receiving their commercial driver’s license (CDL) each year, that’s 2.5 times the amount of drivers needed to fill the 160,000 projected vacancies.

It’s important to note that turnover and retention statistics don’t just reflect those who exit the industry. Those who move from company to company are included, too. In fact, many industry leaders believe that high driver turnover, often in pursuit of better pay, hours and routes, is a sign of worker empowerment. Hiring qualified drivers is only half the battle. It’s just as important, if not more so, to keep them around. 

Take Charge of Your Fleet’s Future

It’s not easy to pinpoint the driving forces behind the commercial driver shortage. As a result, fleet managers who prioritize both recruitment and retention are likely to stay ahead of their competition.  

Strengthen your approach with our free checklist, 7 Effective Strategies for Recruiting and Retaining Top-Notch Drivers. 

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