The trucking industry will face the worst driver shortage in its long history unless conditions change during the next two years, trucking industry officials said in comments on and off the record in Atlanta this week.
Several factors are conspiring to create such a pronounced imbalance, executives said at a conference sponsored by the United Kingdom-based firm eyefortransport. One is the increasing demand for freight services, especially in the truckload segment. A second is the federal government's new safety initiative, known as "Comprehensive Safety Analysis," or CSA 2010. This program, designed to remove the worst company and driver violators from the road, is expected to also reduce the available pool of drivers. A third is the aging driver workforce; by some estimates, one out of every six drivers is now 55 or older.
These trends, combined with carriers' reluctance to invest in new rigs, will trigger significant rate increases for shippers and third-party logistics providers. Not only will they have trouble finding and retaining capacity but they also will pay more should they procure it, according to trucking executives.
The pain will be especially sharp for the legions of shippers who took advantage of the buyers' market for truck space during the recession to beat down their carriers on rates, abandon a longtime carrier for a rival, or play off two or more carriers against each other, trucking executives said.
Carriers criticized the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's (FMCSA) CSA 2010 initiative, which measures the safety of carriers and drivers using seven criteria. The program is slated to take effect November 30. It will mark the first time that the federal government has measured driver safety directly.
CSA 2010's objective is to reduce the number of crashes and associated injuries and fatalities while making the most efficient use of FMCSA's resources. While truckers say the initiative is well-intentioned, they believe the point-based ranking system will have the effect of penalizing otherwise safe and qualified drivers. They also say it will force many carriers, who will face higher insurance premiums for keeping supposedly higher-risk drivers behind the wheel, to terminate thousands of drivers whose point rankings are too high to be deemed safe operators under the program.
The consensus at the Atlanta meeting was that CSA 2010 would result in a driver attrition rate of 5 to 8 percent. However, Derek Leathers, COO of truckload carrier Werner Enterprises, said that percentage is "too low." Leathers didn't offer a more detailed projection. However, he noted that two of his company's drivers, who have more than 7.4 million miles between them without an accident, would be considered unsafe operators under the CSA guidelines.
Leathers said that if left unchanged, CSA could become the most damaging regulation in the trucking industry's history. He urged shippers to make their voices heard in opposition to the program if they do not want to face a significant shortage of drivers to haul their freight.
Government officials say that CSA's purpose is not to disqualify safe drivers, and that operators with good track records and a history of good behavior behind the wheel have little to worry about. "If you are a good driver today, or a good motor carrier today, you will be a good one after CSA 2010 takes effect," FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro told a shipper policy group in early June.
The American Trucking Associations (ATA), the nation's largest trucking trade group, told Congress on June 23 that CSA 2010 should be modified to ensure that the cause of a crash is determined before it is entered into a carrier's record; this would make drivers or carriers accountable only for crashes that they actually cause, the organization said. Among other recommendations, ATA also said FMCSA should base its assessment of a driver's safety performance on actual citations for moving violations and not on so-called warnings issued by law enforcement.
ATA said it continues to support the CSA 2010 initiative because it is based on safety performance rather than compliance with paperwork requirements, focuses limited enforcement resources on specific areas of deficiency rather than on comprehensive on-site audits, and will eventually provide up-to-date safety-performance measurements. However, the group recommended that FMCSA wait to implement the program until it has reviewed an evaluation by the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute that is currently under way.