Driver Shortage Linked to Lifestyle Considerations, Costello Says

Additional 105,000 Truck Drivers Will Be Needed by 2023, According to ATA’s Chief Economist

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The persistent shortage of truckers is a complex issue that is partly related to quality of life considerations, according to the American Trucking Associations Chief Economist Bob Costello.

Costello reports the trucking industry needed an additional 60,800 truck drivers in 2018, a shortfall that is expected to grow to 105,000 drivers by 2023 unless hiring efforts are stepped up. Costello delivered a presentation at a meeting of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee on July 20.

He identified a variety of factors exacerbating the driver shortage, ranging from lifestyle issues to the effects of pandemic restrictions on motor vehicle departments and driver schools. Anecdotally, he said he heard from the fleet that the company could pay drivers less as long as they took them home every night.

Driver shortage chart

Motorcycle Carrier Safety Advisory Committee

“There could be more to this story,” Costello said. “Maybe it’s also about the lifestyle. I think it really comes down to a lifestyle issue.”

The length of the route—and the driver’s ability to return regularly—has a link to driver turnover, Costello points out. Trucker turnover rates are generally higher for over-the-road fleets than for local fleets. According to Costello, the driver turnover rate for large leased trucks is 90% for OTR operations and 20% for local operations by 2020.

Turnover can be affected by a variety of other factors, including the treatment of drivers by shippers, receivers and fleets. Also, Costello says the fleet will try to recruit drivers from one another, sometimes offering recruits the opportunity to drive new trucks.

Another factor linked to driver shortages is the FMCSA’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, a database containing information on drug and alcohol offenses for commercial driver’s licenses. The ATA supports FMCSA’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, but Costello notes that it does affect the driver pool. Many truck drivers who have been issued drug offenses have not yet started the procedures necessary for re-entry into the industry.

“It has eliminated a number of drivers who are not allowed to drive,” Costello said. “That’s a good thing, but the reality is we now need to replenish those jobs. It has made up for the shortfall, for good reason, but it is.”

In terms of equipment, Costello shows a downward trend in rental operator power units despite the congested freight market.

Big truck payload sector chart

Motorcycle Carrier Safety Advisory Committee

In the large truckload sector, the trend of the charter power unit fleet is down 6% year-to-date in 2021, a substantial decline from the 0.4% decline recorded in the sector in 2020.

The small truck sector power unit fleet trend shows a 3.3% decline in 2020, which has fallen to a 4.9% decline so far this year.

“In today’s market, shipping is good,” said Costello. “There’s a lot of stuff out there. Rates generally go up. I don’t know of any trucking company that wouldn’t want to expand their fleet in that neighborhood. They are actually contracting.”

Costello points to several factors to explain this contraction in fleet equipment. He suggested the fleet was having trouble adding drivers and selling parked trucks. Also, he said the equipment had been leased to independent contractors who went to the spot market.

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