The trucking industry has been troubled by significant issues in recent years. There was a freight recession in 2016. The Electronic Logging Device (ELD) mandate was a topic of much debate in 2017, barely eclipsing the concern over changing hours-of-service rules. The problem of substance abuse with long-haul drivers continues to grow. And while the driver shortage has been looming for years, now is the first time since 2006 that the topic has topped the “Top 10 List of Critical Issues” that is put out each year by the industry’s American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI). Leapfrogging up the not-for-profit’s list by six spots compared to last year, the driver shortage is certainly on everyone’s mind. To create their list, ATRI compiled the annual survey responses from more than 1,500 motor carriers and commercial drivers; the result was 21 percent of respondents stating that the driver shortage was their top concern with a total of 39 percent placing the problem within their top three worries.
It’s not just the number of drivers, either; the fifth issue on the list points to a significant challenge that companies are facing in retaining drivers. As I have discussed in a previous blog, the turnover rate of commercial truck drivers is abysmal—currently it surpasses that of the restaurant/hospitality industry and has even been higher than 100 percent in the recent past. Many drivers complain of low pay, long hours and not enough miles, but issues with communication, equipment maintenance and no room for advancement are causing the number of departures to rise when compared to previous years. Worse yet, the industry as a whole is faced with a very real threat to which the march of time only seems to exacerbate the problem—being that today’s millennials don’t want to be tomorrow’s truck drivers.
Not to be easily deterred, some companies are focusing on initiatives designed to keep drivers in the seat; employing everything from better training to bonus programs. They could be fighting an uphill battle though, as many of today’s young adults were raised with higher expectations of salary and job satisfaction. In response, some commercial transport companies are moving away from the need for human drivers altogether, as the race for the first viable application of driverless trucks has been heating up over the past year. Yes, as big players like Tesla, Google and Mercedes are poised to take the prize, recent legislation has left the topic of self-driving trucks by the side of the road.
Such news shouldn’t keep you from believing that a solution is in the works, though. Brian Fielkow, President of Houston-based Jetco Delivery, made the following comments, “Even though the technology is clearly here for self-driving trucks, I do not see self-driving trucks decreasing the demand for professional drivers anytime soon. Tomorrow’s professional truck driver may be analogous to an airplane pilot, where much of the function is automated but the human element is still critical.” This could be a hint of things to come. As sometimes is the case, a current challenge could actually reshape the industry to be more efficient, better run and ultimately safer for those of us who share the road with these trucks.
Michael Leizerman is a truck accident attorney specializing in catastrophic multi-axle collisions. He understands all facets of truck accident litigation; including federal regulations, drug and alcohol testing and hours of service requirements. He has authored a treatise entitled Litigating Truck Accident Cases and often educates other attorneys on trucking laws and regulations. You can learn more about Leizerman & Associates by visiting their website, www.truckaccidents.com.
Michael Jay Leizerman is the managing partner at EJ Leizerman & Associates, LLC, Toledo, OH. He is a frequent lecturer who teaches other attorneys how to handle truck accident cases across the country.