Is the trucking industry threatened by a shortage of drivers? This has been the narrative for decades, and it’s backed up by hundreds of headlines. But is this really the case or are trucking companies dealing with overcapacity and retention issues?
When we look at the turnover rates for just the past few years, we can see that it’s not at all unusual for them to exceed 90%. This information alone would suggest that the problem isn’t a shortage of drivers, as these companies still manage to find employees to replace the ones that left in a never-ending cycle.
The American Trucking Associations (ATA) reported that the driver shortage could reach 150,000 in less than a decade, but data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration show that there are almost 500,000 new entry CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) holders and almost 100,000 reinstatements every year. This idea is further backed by a 2019 study published in the Monthly Labor Review titled “Is the U.S. labor market for truck drivers broken?”
What’s Causing the High Turnover Rate in the Trucking Industry?
Most trucking companies have a constantly revolving door of drivers leaving (either through voluntary or involuntary termination) and of new drivers coming in. One company may bring in 20 new drivers to try to replace the 22 drivers that left the previous week. This practice is not limited to just a few companies and has widespread negative consequences for both employees and employers.
Based on the figures from surveys conducted by the TCA (Truckload Carriers Association) Profitability Program, the high turnover rate mostly comes from drivers with limited tenure – less than 180 days since they were hired. These drivers accounted for more than 85% of the annual turnover rate, leading us to believe that one of the main causes is the difficulty companies face in acclimating new hires to their working conditions.
Poor Work-Life Balance
Truck driving and particularly long-haul truck driving is an occupation that heavily limits the time a person can spend with their family and their ability to form close friendships. Since people are social animals that crave connection, sooner or later, this will take a toll on the mental health of these drivers.
In recent years, this problem has gained more recognition in the industry, and more efforts have been made to shorten the average length of haul as to allow drivers to spend more time at home in the hopes that by doing so, companies could reduce turnover rates.
Health and Safety
Driving a commercial truck remains one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States, with around 500,000 accidents each year. The rate of accidents in Texas is considerably higher than in any other state since it has so many industries dependent on the trucking industry, and road repairs have not managed to keep up with the increase in highways use. Furthermore, as any Texas truck accident lawyer can tell you from the number of cases they receive, this rate is increasing.
Truck drivers are also more likely to experience nonfatal injuries from cycles of heavy lifting and long periods of sitting. The fatigue caused by constantly changing schedules and unhealthy diets makes them more vulnerable to injuries and developing chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes.
Expectations vs. Reality
The majority of long-haul truck drivers are paid per mile and not per hour. There can be significant differences between the number of miles driven from week to week, which leads to challenges in budgeting, especially if the new hires are not used to such inconsistent income. Then you have to think of the amount of time truck drivers spend working but not driving. There can be delays caused by traffic, weather conditions, or by shippers and receivers.
Drivers also often report feeling lied to by recruiters when they’re given the details of the job. They’re promised a minimum number of miles, safety measures, and benefits they don’t receive, so they get a bad impression of the company and start looking for another job.