For the past ten years there has been a considerable amount of discussion regarding the Over the road (OTR) truck driver shortage in the industry. The American Trucking Associations has released four major analyses of the issue, the latest on October 6. By now, you probably have read the prediction of a shortage of OTR drivers of 48,000 by the end of 2015, the highest level ever recorded. This figure could increase to about 175,000, as the industry and the economy grow and drivers age. Over the next two years, it will be necessary to hire 89,000 new drivers annually, nearly half of those just to replace retiring drivers. (Transportation research group FTR thinks the need will be even greater.)

Recent industry publication articles on the report have emphasized the “gloom and doom” aspects of the problem, but a reading of the entire 17 page report would be well worth your time. It can be found at under the heading Truck Driver Shortage Analysis. While the report does not minimize the problem, it also provides a valuable discussion of the problem and what can be done to help alleviate it.

ATA identified 5 major causes for the shortage.

  1. Median age of an OTR driver is 49, with some sectors even higher. (The median age of a private fleet driver is 52.) Since currently, a driver must be 21 to haul interstate traffic, the carriers cannot tap that 18-21 age group that might be in the process of choosing a career.
  2. 47% of all U.S. workers are female. 4.5% of OTR drivers are women. While some carriers are making efforts to recruit women, the results have not been too promising.
  3. The lifestyle leaves much to be desired. Being away from home for weeks at a time is not always compatible with family and personal wants, needs, and desires.
  4. There are more competitive jobs available, especially in the construction industry. Typically, these jobs pay well, put you at home every evening and are unencumbered by the many rules and regulations governing drivers.
  5. Finally, government regulations such as CSA 2010, hours of service rules, electronic on board recorders, etc. have kept drivers and the entire industry in a state of unrest for some time.

The ATA suggests several solutions to the problem.

  1. Increase pay and benefits. Salaries and sign on bonuses have increased over the past year – a trend that needs to be continued.
  2. Provide ways to maximize at home time. Examples of these might be increased hub and spoke operations, slip seats, etc.
  3. Lower the driver age for interstate drivers to 18, before younger members of the work force choose another career.
  4. Improve driver image. Truck drivers seem to have a mostly unwarranted negative image, and the ATA is attempting to improve the image of drivers through its “America Advances Through Trucking” initiative.
  5. Transition more veterans into the industry. This can be a good source of drivers. Recently, the industry committed to bringing in 100,000 veterans over the next two years. Last week, DOT awarded $2.3 million in grants to 13 community colleges and technical schools across the country for the training of veterans as drivers.
  6. Finally, the “Star Wars” solution of automated trucks may be an answer for the distant future.

While most of the burden falls on the carriers, shippers and receivers can help tremendously by extending cooperation and courtesy to drivers serving their facilities.

Written By: Clifford F. Lynch