December 8, 2017

Truckload driver turnover jumps in third quarter as labor supply tightens

LTL driver turnover declined, ATA numbers show.

By DC Velocity Staff

Commercial truck driver turnover at large truckload fleets in the third quarter rose 5 percentage points from the prior quarter, reflecting a continued seller's market for the services of qualified drivers, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) said yesterday.

At the same time, though, turnover at less-than-truckload (LTL) fleets dipped 2 percentage points year over year to 7 percent, hitting the lowest level since the second quarter of 2016. LTL driver turnover is much less than in the much-larger truckload sector because LTL drivers are typically better paid and because their relatively shorter lengths of haul afford them more home time and a better work-life balance.

Turnover rates at small truckload fleets, defined as carriers with less than $30 million in annual revenue, fell sequentially by 1 percentage point to annualized rate of 84 percent. That was 2 percentage points higher than in the third quarter of 2016, ATA said.

ATA said in October that the trucking industry would be short by more than 50,000 qualified drivers by the end of the year, an all-time high. The trade group forecast the shortage could escalate to 174,000 drivers by 2024 unless steps are taken now to attract and retain driver labor.

The shortage may spike during the first half of 2018 as federal government rules requiring virtually all trucks to have electronic logging devices (ELDs) in their cabs by Dec. 18 are expected to force many solo drivers off the road because they've decided not to comply with the regulations.

Higher driver turnover rates are symptomatic of scarce supply as more drivers, lured by higher wages, jump from one carrier to another.

"Since bottoming out at the end of 2016, the turnover rate at larger fleets has steadily risen—a function of an improving economy, rising demand for freight transportation, and fierce competition for drivers," ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said in a statement. Costello said that "unless steps are taken to make it easier for individuals to pursue careers in trucking, demand for drivers will continue to outstrip supply—eventually even leading to supply chain disruptions." Costello did not outline what those steps should be.

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