Trucking is the backbone of the commercial shipping and freight industries. More than two thirds of freight transported in the United States is carried by commercial trucking companies, whether in conjunction with other modes of transport or as the sole means of transport. Even though the movement of goods across the nation is highly dependent on the trucking industry, trucking companies are now finding themselves short of drivers and overworking the drivers they currently employ. This crisis could have a catastrophic impact on how safe the roads will be in the near and distance future and travelers should take note.
Aging Drivers and Poor Recruitment Contribute to Driver Shortage
There are approximately 2.6 million commercial truck drivers currently employed in the United States, but the American Trucking Association believes there is a shortage of about 40,000 drivers which continues to grow as time passes. This shortage could grow to 240,000 drivers before the end of 2022 if the trucking industry in general is unable to make commercial truck driving jobs more attractive. The age of current drivers and unattractive compensation plans offered are thought to be the driving forces behind the shortage of drivers.
- Truck drivers are older on average than those working in other occupations and because more drivers are reaching retirement age, the shortage of drivers is growing as they leave the workforce.
- Most trucking companies pay their drivers by the mile and this can frustrate or discourage drivers who are forced to wait at warehouses, are stuck in traffic or have reached their in service limits for the day.
- Younger drivers are no longer attracted to careers in truck driving and the lack of new recruits is making is difficult to replace drivers who are leaving.
- Overworked drivers are more prone to make mistakes and at a higher risk of being involved in an accident. For this reason, the government has cracked down on trucking companies and tightened regulations to limit the amount of hours each driver can work. These limits make the roads safer but they cost drivers money.
- Drivers are now realizing that they are at risk of legal action should their actions result in a truck accident or injuries. Offering an hourly pay rate rather than pay by the mile may be the best way to attract new drivers and to retain existing drivers in an industry where drivers are feeling that the risks outweigh the benefits.
Traditional Pay Structure for Truck Drivers Creates Safety Concerns
Many of the safety concerns plaguing the trucking industry and the inability of companies to recruit drivers as they once could are driven by how compensation is determined. Especially when operating on long routes, drivers are paid at a rate determined by the miles traveled rather than the hours spent driving and this policy affects the morale of drivers and can encourage workers to bend the rules when they would not have otherwise.
- Drivers are often mistreated because of how they are paid. Warehouses may not respect the value of drivers’ time because they can be held up without any additional cost.
- Time spent on inspecting or repairing vehicles is not compensated, encouraging drivers to skip inspections or forego repairs in order to save time.
- Limits on the time drivers may work each day or week may force them to make up time lost in traffic or while waiting at a warehouse by speeding or taking other risks on the road.
- Some drivers falsify logs and break the rules in order to make more money and may work when they are overly fatigued.
Trucking companies that have altered their pay structure have noted remarkable changes in driver turnover and accident data. The companies offering an hourly rate are attracting more qualified drivers and only turnover about one fifth of the drivers that companies paying by the mile do. Most importantly, however, is that companies offering pay by the hour are reporting significantly lowered rates of accidents because their drivers are less prone to disobeying laws or working while fatigued.
Saving the trucking industry may be as simple as paying workers fairly and encouraging them to operate in a safe manner. Workers will be far more willing to wait at warehouses when required or to make their way through heavy traffic more patiently if they are assured that they will receive compensation for the time they’ve invested in their work. They will also be more willing to address safety concerns that they would otherwise conceal if they were paid by the mile.