Driver Shortage: Don’t Fall For It

The talking point that states the trucking industry is facing a driver shortage to explain the state of supply chain is a lie. Don’t fall for it. There has been a “shortage” of drivers for well over 20 years so be sure you are getting honest answers when digging into your supply chain issues.

I left the trucking industry in 2011, when the Hours of Service (HoS) rules were a pending change to combat driver fatigue and give carriers the bargaining power they needed to force shippers and receivers to pay more money for keeping drivers idle at docks while they waited to load or unload.

The HoS failed to give that power, however, because the carrier would just be denied the chance to haul that freight ever again. Carriers gave in, and the same tune continues to play. Drivers receive minimal compensation for the time they sit; time that they cannot log as “off duty, not driving” or my favorite “off duty, sleeping” as I would nap until my truck was loaded.

Back then, my drive time would be suspended while in the sleeper, ready to use once my truck was finally loaded—and I was rested. Drivers today cannot do so, and when they are finally loaded, they must then hurry to make up for lost time.

The Department of Transportation claims that drivers who wait beyond the industry standard two-hour detention window have a 6.2% increase in the possibility of a crash because they drive faster and pay more attention to the clock than the road, leading to about 6,500 crashes per year.

This doesn’t consider the fatigue that sets in while in heavy traffic, trying to make the best of a 14-hour day in which nearly half that time can be wasted at a shipping dock. Drivers are not paid hourly, so they push it to get as many miles as possible, regardless of weather and traffic conditions, hoping to overcome the time they sit without compensation.

Wage Gap

This brings me to the next factor that is causing a “shortage.” Commercial drivers license (CDL) holders find that by driving locally, they can make more money and spend time with family every day.

After I left the industry, I struggled to be seen as a logistics professional and at one point considered returning. I had been without a CDL for three years and carrier insurance companies no longer considered me an experienced driver. The pay I was offered after school was the same pay I had made as a company driver in 1998.

Carriers are not willing to pay enough to retain the drivers they promise jobs to after school. The drivers become disillusioned and leave, causing more of the “driver shortage” falsehood to spread.

The industry has tried to keep paying less than they should by recruiting immigrants. They take advantage of people who are used to making less, to keep justifying the low pay. Now, the government that created the HoS rules is helping carriers pay lower wages by implementing an apprenticeship program that will allow 18-year-olds to train to become over-the-road drivers.

No increase in pay, and time away from friends and family will cause this driver pool to evaporate, without any thought to the root cause of the “shortage.”

When a provider gives you the excuse that the driver shortage is causing all your supply chain woes, don’t fall for it. The American Trucking Associations lobbyist group is working hard to keep the status quo. But until the laws are changed to allow drivers to rest whenever they need it (with ample parking available), and wages are increased to match the pay that is found outside the industry, with all time compensated, there will be a shortage of drivers willing to work under the current conditions, not a shortage of drivers.