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Fleets better prepared for this year’s climb in truck-driver turnover

June 23, 2011
Longhaul truck driver turnover grew steadily during the first quarter of 2011

Turnover among longhaul truck drivers increased steadily during the first three months of 2011 However, according to industry analysts, this is such a long-expected development that many fleets are well prepared to deal with it.

According to the latest Trucking Activity Report compiled by the American Trucking Assns. (ATA), the truck driver turnover rate at large truckload fleets rose to an annualized rate of 75% in the first quarter of 2011. That’s up from 69% in the fourth quarter last year and a sharp climb from the low of 39% recorded in the first quarter of 2010.

Turnover at small truckload fleets rose just one percentage point to 50% in the first quarter, reaching its highest point since the third quarter of 2008.

Less-than-truckload fleets continued to experience a very low turnover rate, with the figure rising to 8% from 6% the previous quarter, said Bob Costello, ATA chief economist.

“The driver market is tightening,” Costello said, noting that the turnover figures are the highest since the second quarter of 2008. “We hear nearly every day from fleets who cannot find enough drivers to meet demand.”

Eric Starks, president of FTR Associates, believes this is only the beginning of a long year-to- year- and- a- half climb in turnover rates. But he contends it won’t reach the 135% peak experienced by the industry in 2005.

“We expect turnover rates to go higher, but not hit the peak levels we experienced six years ago,” Starks told Fleet Owner. “In this particular cycle, fleets understand what’s going on in terms of turnover; this time, they are well prepared for it. That’s why we’ll see pay go up and a move to short-haul, more regional-style operations.”

Indeed, recent surveys conducted by Transport Capital Partners (TCP) indicate 92% of fleets are preparing for driver wage increases of up to 5%, in spite of 9% plus unemployment in the general economy

FTR’s Starks points out, however, that if the economy continues to soften, many drivers might choose to forego changing jobs. “They may just decide to stay where they are at, taking a ‘wait and see’ approach to how the economy fares and what the affect on freight might be,” he noted.

Starks added that the real challenge from turnover won’t occur until 2012, when new-- and as yet undetermined changes-- to federal hours of service (HOS) regulations go into effect.

“That’s the spot where turnover and driver shortages will really become critical issues,” he said.

About the Author

Sean Kilcarr | Editor in Chief

Sean reports and comments on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry -- light and medium duty fleets up through over-the-road truckload, less-than-truckload, and private fleet operations Also be sure to visit Sean's blog Trucks at Work where he offers analysis on a variety of different topics inside the trucking industry.

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