Our entire industry needs to wake up. The purported driver shortage, driver pay, working conditions, and highway safety are all interconnected. To solve one of these problems, it’s necessary to address and resolve them all.
To begin with, the question the industry should be asking is not why there aren’t enough drivers. It’s why are Americans who are qualified to drive commercial vehicles not willing to fill these positions? There are millions of Americans who hold or have held a CDL who aren’t driving a commercial vehicle—more than enough to fill today’s unfilled truck driver jobs.
The problem lies in how truckers are treated and how they are paid. According to a May 2012 study by the Dept. of Labor Statistics, the average annual pay for a truck driver was $41,680; the average pay for all workers was $42,607. The $927 per year difference could be one reason for the industry-wide turnover rate of well over 100%. If the earnings issue isn’t addressed, the exodus of drivers will continue, and as the American Trucking Assns. has predicted, the industry will be 200,000 drivers short in just a few years. One trucking journalist recently explained the driver shortage this way: If a luxury car’s selling for $75,000 and you continually offer a dealer $41,000 and they turn you down each time, this doesn’t indicate a shortage of that particular vehicle. You just haven’t come to the price for which the dealers are willing to sell.
We can solve this mass departure of drivers while improving highway safety and security in one fell swoop: Provide an economic environment where a trucker (whether company driver, lease-operator, or owner-operator) can earn the revenue commensurate with the skills required, time away from home, and the nomadic lifestyle on the road. This pay scale must take into account the dangers of the job, the necessary time, and an ROI for the equipment. It must also allow a trucker to make a safety-related decision without jeopardizing his or her income.
Keep in mind that under the current per-mile or percentage pay scales, every time a trucker is sitting at a dock waiting to be loaded or unloaded, he or she is not being paid. Just put yourself in this trucker’s shoes. How would you respond if the only way you could make up lost income was to manipulate your logbook so you could keep rolling and rack up the needed miles?
All of us need to help resolve these problems. Both the trucking and shipping sides of the industry need to ensure truckers don’t have to wait for hours to load or unload. If a trucker is out of hours by the time he gets to a dock or when he’s unloaded, he/she needs to be provided with a secure, safe place to park that doesn’t create a Catch-22 choice: break the hours-of-service rules or be charged with trespassing. You wouldn’t let a friend drive drunk; you shouldn’t create a situation where a trucker is in violation of hours of service and driving tired.