The Trucking Industry’s Driver Shortage and its Implications

By David Bansleben

The trucking industry has been dealing with driver shortage for several years now. In recent times the driver shortage in the ​flatbed shipping​ industry has been pushed to the forefront as the trucking industry attempts to manage this issue. Bob Costello, the chief economist at the American Trucking Association stated that the country was experiencing a shortage of drivers by a number estimated to be 51,000 in 2017. The 2016 numbers indicated the shortage to be around 36,000, indicating a drastic increase that is only expected to continue Costello predicts. The reason this issue is so prevalent in the transportation industry is because a shortage of active drivers means there will be less trucks on the road to transport freight. The shortage of available trucks to transport freight combined with the increased demand for trucks by businesses has combined to create a perfect storm in ​flatbed hauling​.

The Trucking Industry’s Driver Shortage and its Implications

This increased demand for trucks and a shortage of trucks has caused shipping rates to increase. Increased shipping costs have impacted flatbed heavy hauling​ especially because of its niche market within the industry. There are limited drivers as is, but especially when it comes to oversized and heavy haul freight. The reason being is because these types of loads require more expertise and come with more complications, causing their rates to rise even more than legal truckload rates have. While an increased demand for trucks signifies that our economy is strong, prices outside of shipping are beginning to increase as well. This is because companies have to figure out ways to make up for the increased shipping costs of their products if they require time spent on a truck.

What has caused this shortage of drivers? There are a couple of factors that have contributed to the shortage we are experiencing today. One major factor is that more and more people are opting to attend college rather than enter the workforce after high school. As a result,the country is gaining more highly educated people but losing potential drivers. The pool of potential drivers has also decreased as unemployment rates are low across the country at the moment, so there are less people seeking work in general. Technology is also a factor that explains a driver shortage. With more companies such as Tesla, Uber, and Google investing in developing self-driving vehicles, young Americans are being put off to the idea of becoming a driver for fear that these jobs will be replaced by technology in the near future. Experts predict that self-driving technology will not replace drivers entirely for a long time. Another factor is that driving is not an easy or appealing job, it requires long hours on the road, spending a lot of time alone, and time away from your friends and family.

Trucking companies have been raising driver’s pay to try to combat the decreasing supply but it is not enough. Transportation companies are being forced to increase rates in order to combat the lack of drivers at their disposal, companies have to be more selective with choosing what loads to move or not, and diesel fuel price is currently on the rise. Drivers are also being restricted by the government in an attempt to increase driver safety. The mandate states that drivers cannot be on the road for more than 11 hours at a time, another obstacle drivers and the ​flatbed trucking industry​ are facing.

The strain of a driver shortage is causing prices to rise in manufacturing along with other products that require shipping. Despite the best efforts of companies to increase driver’s pay, nothing has seemed to be effective in attracting drivers to the field. Coupled with the increasing demand for drivers, there needs to be better solutions out there presented to combat this issue, not only for the sake of our trucking industry but for industries across the board that depend on flatbed transportation​.