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Truck Drivers Shortage Worsens as Goods Pile Up

As goods pile up at the nation’s ports, waiting for transport inland, the nation’s shortage of truck drivers to move the freight has reached a critical point.

That’s the warning from Bob Costello, the chief economist at the American Trucking Associations. At a recent trucking industry conference, Costello said the driver shortage has risen to 80,000 – an all-time high for the industry.

“Since we last released an estimate of the shortage, there has been tremendous pressure on the driver pool,” Costello said. “Increased demand for freight, pandemic-related challenges from early retirements, closed driving schools and DMVs, and other pressures are really pushing up demand for drives and subsequently the shortage.”

Before the pandemic, “we were adding drivers to the industry – even though we had a shortage, more people were entering the industry,” Costello said. “The issue is that new entrants into the industry didn’t keep up with demand for goods.”

There are many reasons for the shortage, including pay and an aging workforce.

But those aren’t the only reasons, Costello said.

He said that average annual earnings in the long-haul for-hire truckload industry are rising roughly five times the historical average.

“Rising pay rates alone will not solve the driver shortage because some drivers will choose to work less at a higher pay rate, negating the impact of the increase. The solution to the driver shortage will most certainly require increased pay, regulatory changes and modifications to shippers’, receivers’ and carriers’ business practices to improve conditions for drivers,” Costello said.


Costello cited the following factors, besides wages, that contribute to the truck driver shortage.

  • Current drivers have a high average age, which leads to an increased number of retirements.
  • Women make up only 7 percent of all drivers, well below their representation in the total workforce.
  • The inability of some would-be and current drivers to pass a drug test, a problem exacerbated by an increasing number of states legalizing marijuana, a substance still banned federally.
  • The federally mandated minimum age of 21 to drive commercially across state lines poses a significant challenge to recruiting new drivers.
  • The pandemic caused some drivers to leave the industry, plus truck driver training schools trained far fewer drivers than average in 2020.
  • There are many negative lifestyle issues, such as long-haul drivers spending so much time away from home.
  • Infrastructure and other issues, like a lack of truck parking, which causes drivers to stop driving earlier than they need to so they can get a spot for the night, and congestion which limits drivers’ ability to safely and efficiently make deliveries.
  • Other barriers to entry include the inability of potential candidates to meet carriers’ hiring standards for driving records or criminal histories.

“We have an aging workforce, a workforce that is overwhelmingly male and finding ways to address those issues is key to narrowing the shortage,” he said.

Jerry Hirsch January 11, 2021
Trucking remains one of the deadliest occupations, according to the latest federal data on workplace deaths. 

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