The Changing Trucking Industry

Source: Jan Novak - 123RF

According to the Bureau of Labor Standards (BLS), employment of heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers is projected to grow 6 percent from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Nearly 71% of all the freight tonnage moved in the U.S. goes on trucks. The economy depends on truck drivers to transport freight and keep supply chains moving. As the demand for goods increases, more truck drivers will be needed.

The trucking industry employs 10 million people, but as NPR reports, the industry is currently experiencing a critical shortage of drivers.

The driver shortage stretches back a quarter century, and lately, a run-up in freight demand, staggeringly high turnover rates and waves of baby boomer retirements are compounding the problem.

Wages for drivers are going up too. Gordon Klemp, president of the National Transportation Institute, figures that increase was close to 10 percent on average, which would make average driver salaries crest at $60,000 by his estimates. And Costello says truckers are demanding more than good pay.

Some trucking companies sweeten the deal with bonuses for signing on, referring people, or just staying with a company. Some have begun offering free, online college tuition for drivers.

Ellen Voie, president, and CEO of Women in Trucking says the percentage of women who are long-haul drivers has doubled in the past dozen years, and she expects it to take off sharply in the near future.

ATA President and CEO, Chris Spear, advocates the case for automated truck safety technology, saying it holds enormous potential for the trucking industry, its drivers and the motoring public.

With 94% of highway accidents attributed to human error, the successful deployment of AV technology can drastically reduce fatalities on the road.

Moreover, Spear adds, the technology can deliver significant returns by reducing traffic congestion, improving driver productivity and decreasing emissions through lower fuel burn.

Many new trucks have automatic transmissions and the type of safety features you might expect on a new car: cameras and computers that watch lanes, look out for obstacles and even hit the brakes automatically sometimes.

In late September 2018, ATA petitioned DOT to pre-empt meal-and-rest break rules imposed by California, but primarily enforced via private lawsuits against motor carriers, on the grounds that a patchwork of rules related to driver hours of service harms safety, is in conflict with federal rules and causes “an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce.”

Following the petition, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao granted the Federation’s petition to pre-empt confusing and duplicative state rest break rules, asserting the federal government’s critical role in regulating interstate commerce.

ATA Chairman, Barry Pottle, says the ruling “will make our highways safer by simplifying the lives and schedules of America’s truck drivers.”