Driver Shortage Again Leads Critical Issues


By Al Muskewitz

Editor-in-Chief Wright Media


The American Transportation Research Institute released the findings of its latest survey of critical issues in the trucking industry and the leading themes haven't changed.


The driver shortage is the No. 1 issue for the second year in a row and has been a top three issue in 12 of the 14 years ATRI has conducted the survey.


The No. 2 issue is the Hours-of-Service rules, with driver retention fall into at No. 3 – up two spots from last year. Hours of service is a top-three issue for the eighth consecutive year. In regards to retention, driver turnover is on pace to have its highest annual rate since 2013.


The survey generated more than 1,500 responses from motor carriers and drivers. It was released today at the American Trucking Associations’ Management Conference and Exhibition in Austin, Texas.


“With a strong economy, our industry’s challenges just got bigger,” ATA president and CEO Chris Spear said in remarks to the conference. “The chronic driver and technician shortage is now top-fold, national news – fueled by consumer confidence, a well above-average retirement age, and erroneous claims that our trucks will soon be driverless.


“Beyond the goodwill that comes from engaging our nation’s youth, the fact is, we also need to attract the next generation of drivers and technicians.”


The ELD mandate and available parking round out the top five. Parking remains the No. 2 issue among drivers.


Spots 6 through 10 were occupied by Compliance/Safety/Accountability, Driver Distraction, Infrastructure, Driver Health/Wellness and Economy.


Beyond simply reporting a listing of the top issues, the survey also offered a series of proposed strategies for each. Among them include advocating for Congress and federal agencies to develop an apprenticeship program for 18-20 year olds, pushing for increased flexibility in hours-of-service regulations, researching the relationship between driver compensation and driver productivity.


"Fleets are reacting to the No. 1 issue is many ways by increasing the benefits of pay that they provide to drivers," ATRI president and CEO Rebecca Brewster said, "but there are other things that fleets are doing and one of the strategies that was identified is to look at what are the best practices in these retention strategies that fleets are using that are getting the biggest payoff because then we can replicate those throughout the industry.


"What works for a big fleet ... might not make sense at Joe's Trucking Company, but there are things Joe's Trucking Company could take from that compendium of best practices and set them to work in their fleet."


As part of its critical issues analysis ATRI also tracks emerging topics. The issues falling just outside the top 10 include Highway Safety, Tort Reform and Automated Truck Technology.


Here is a ranking of the issues per peer group:


Commercial drivers: 1. Hours of service, 2. Truck parking, 3. ELD mandate, 4. Driver distraction, 5. Driver retention, 6. CSA, 7. Driver health and wellness, 8. Transportation infrastructre, 9. Driver shortage, 10. Automated truck technology.


Motor carriers: 1. Driver shortage, 2. Driver retention, 3. HOS, 4. Transportation infrastructure, 5, ELD mandate, 6. CSA, 7. Driver distraction, 8. Tort reform, 9. Truck parking, 10. Federal pre-emption of state regulation of interstate trucking (F4A).


"We've done this survey for 14 years and the driver shortage has been a top three issue for 12 out of those 14 years," Brewster said, adding she wasn't surprised it maintained that position of concern. "When I started on this job in 1993 we were doing a study on the driver shortage, so it's been a topic for a long time.


"I think there's a real recognition now becuase the shortage is so severe -- it's big -- that now everybody is getting engaged in it. I think finally shippers are started to realize, my gosh, this matters. How we treat drivers really does matter. ... We're all in this together and if we're going to keep moving this nation's freight forward we need everybody to have a stake in this."


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