America will need close to 1M drivers in order to ‘keep on trucking’

May 7, 2018

You know all of those online purchases that are delivered to your driveway or doorway? Most of those goodies—70%, according to the American Trucking Associations—are brought to you by drivers who hit the hardtop in their semitrailers and vans nationwide after you hit “buy now” on your keyboard.

What’s more, the number of deliveries from online vendors is only going up: In 2016, 209.6 million of U.S. shoppers went online for their transactions at least once, based on data provided by Statista. These figures are projected to reach 230.5 million in 2021—positioning the United States as of one the leading e-commerce markets based on online shopper penetration.

What that means, according to a report released on May 4 by CNBC, is that, within ten years, America will need about 890,000 more truck drivers in order to keep pace with growth and demand for freight transportation.

Americans are used to getting what they want with the click of a button, but this expectation of door-to-door service will be increasingly difficult to fulfill if we can’t get more drivers behind the wheel.

At a time when (despite low unemployment) many Americans are still experiencing great difficulty finding high-paying full-time positions that provide the added security of benefits, the transportation sector offers an attractive solution.

According to ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello, the truck driver shortage currently stands at roughly 50,000 drivers—a figure that could balloon to 174,000 by 2026.

However, limits on younger commercial drivers are creating unforeseen bumps in the road the industry is having a hard time overcoming. While virtually all states allow individuals to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL) at the age of 18, these drivers are prohibited from operating in interstate commerce until they are 21.

A significant challenge to the industry is recruiting young talent to replace an aging workforce. Retirements now account for 49% percent of drivers who must be replaced, and by delaying an individual’s eligibility to be an interstate driver, trucking is at a significant disadvantage in attracting young people.

The ATA is now working to change those laws, so that young drivers can start right out of high school. In addition, Costello says, ““While the shortage is a persistent issue in our industry, motor carriers are constantly working to address it,” he said. “We already see fleets raising pay and offering other incentives to attract drivers. Fleets are also doing more to improve the lifestyle and image of the truck driver, but there are also policy changes like reducing the driver age as part of a graduated licensing system, or easing the transition for returning veterans, that can make getting into this industry easier and therefore help with the shortage.”

Research contact: smcnally@trucking.org

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