Worley Blog


Posted on: January 20th, 2022 by Clifford F. Lynch

As we wrote in our last blog, the weaknesses in the current supply chain have been attributed to several factors, one of which is the ongoing shortage of long-haul truck drivers. This is not a new issue. The glory days of Smokey and the Bandit and CB radios are long gone, and driver shortages have been a continuing concern since the 1980s. According to the American Trucking Associations (ATA), there is a deficit of approximately 80,000 drivers, which could surpass 160,000 in 2030. There were about 3.6 million drivers in 2021, down almost 7% from the previous year. With an average age of 48, the pool is getting older as fewer drivers enter the industry.

The Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) disagrees with the ATA and contends the problem is not a shortage but a retention issue. The turnover rate for long-haul drivers is over 90% and has been for several years. The ATA’s position is that if the government made it easier to enter and stay in the industry, the shortage could be minimized. The OOIDA feels the industry should make driving attractive enough that the turnover rate would decline.

This might just be a question of semantics, but in fairness to the carriers, they have taken steps to make the jobs more attractive by offering higher salaries and sign-up bonuses, and the median salary is an attractive $47,100 annually. These salaries do not come easy, however. The life of a long-haul driver is not easy. They are away from home for long periods of time – according to some estimates 300 days per year – and are faced with mediocre food, poor parking facilities, bad weather, highway congestion, delays in loading and unloading, increased regulation, and uneven enforcement. To add to this stress, most long-haul truckers are paid by the mile; and if they are not moving, they are not making money. And of course, Covid-19 has affected drivers just as it has the remainder of the population.

Software developers and carriers are working diligently to perfect self-driving equipment. Autonomous trucks have been tested successfully by carriers such as J B Hunt, but most experts feel we are years away from this solution. Safety will continue to be a major concern as these vehicles are developed, and complete comfort with driverless trucks will be a long time coming.

One easier solution has been discussed for several years, and finally was approved for a pilot program in the recently enacted infrastructure legislation. The minimum age for a driver in interstate commerce is 21, but most states have a minimum age of 18 for drivers in intrastate commerce. In other words, an 18-year-old can drive the length of the state of Tennessee, but cannot drive 2 miles from Memphis to North Mississippi distribution centers,

The pilot program would allow 18 to 21-year-old drivers to drive in interstate commerce after a rigorous educational and training program and probationary periods. If the program is successful, it is hoped that younger drivers may be attracted to the industry.

Critics are concerned about safety, and the idea of an 18-year-old driving an 80,000-pound rig along a busy interstate highway is frightening to some. If managed correctly, however, this program could help to alleviate the shortage. Even so, carriers will have to continue their efforts to make drivers comfortable from both compensation and lifestyle perspectives.