For the first time since 2006, the shortage of commercial truck drivers has become the top-ranked issue facing the North American trucking industry, according to an annual survey released today by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), the trucking industry's non-profit research arm.
The driver-shortage issue surged six spots from its place in last year's report, displacing compliance with the federal government's mandate that virtually all trucks built after the year 2000 be equipped with electronic logging devices (ELDs) to replace the paper logbooks that drivers have used for nearly a century. The compliance deadline is set for Dec. 18, and it is believed that no more than half of all trucks are equipped with electronic logging equipment.
The ELD-mandate issue ranked second, followed by driver hours-of-service (HOS) rules, according to the survey.
About 21 percent of more than 1,500 motor carrier and driver respondents in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico cited the driver shortage as the industry's most pressing issue. While worries about a driver shortage have been present for years, expectations of the first sustained freight recovery in more than a decade have exacerbated concerns that the demand for qualified drivers will exceed supply. The American Trucking Associations (ATA) said the industry is short about 48,000 drivers, with the shortfall expected to widen to 175,000 drivers by 2025.
The most important remedy cited by respondents is to lobby federal and state officials for citizens under the age of 21 to apply for commercial driver's licenses (CDLs) to operate in interstate commerce. Drivers under 21 can operate within state lines, but cannot cross them. With 1 of 4 truck drivers 55 years or older and nearing retirement, 60 percent of respondents said it was critical for the industry to attract a younger generation of drivers.
Other potential solutions called for the industry to partner with the Department of Labor to formalize a national truck-driver recruitment program, and to work with the departments of Transportation and Defense to create uniformity and streamline cross-agency driver licensing requirements.