The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) has unveiled its annual report on the trucking industry’s top issues. For the third year in a row, the driver shortage is the top-ranked issue for trucking fleets as they struggle to recruit and retain qualified drivers. American Trucking Associations (ATA) estimates that there are more than 60,000 drivers needed, with a potential shortfall of more than 100,000 drivers over the next five years.
The driver shortage is particularly acute in the over-the-road truckload sector where drivers are often away from home for weeks at a time, ATRI reported. Fleets continued to increase driver compensation to try to attract and retain qualified drivers, particularly during the first half of the year.
In ATRI’s 2019 update to its report “An Analysis of the Operational Costs of Trucking,” the association reported that as a strategic response to the severe driver shortage that existed in 2018, driver wages increased 7% and benefits increased 4.7%.
However, drivers are often weighing more factors than pay, and several carriers promote late-model equipment as a benefit when recruiting drivers. Leasing allows private fleets to upgrade equipment regularly, which ensures fleets can take advantage of the latest comfort and safety features equipment manufacturers develop. Those features play a crucial role in ensuring drivers are comfortable and confident in their working environment.
Drivers are also highly concerned about being able to utilize their driving hours under the hours-of-service regulations fully, and the hours-of-service rules held on to the No. 2 issue in the survey for a second consecutive year. Because drivers have a set number of hours to complete their work, uptime is critical. Properly maintained equipment helps ensure performance and is essential for driver acceptance.
Safety technologies, such as adaptive cruise control, air disc brakes and collision-mitigation systems, can also appeal to drivers. Several safety features are standard on Penske’s equipment, and others can be added as an option.
ATRI said another way to help alleviate the driver shortage is to expand recruitment efforts targeted at female drivers and minorities. “According to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Labor, the truck driver population is comprised of 6.6% females and 40.4% minorities. Expanding both populations is viewed by 22.3% of respondents as a top strategy to mitigate the driver shortage,” the report said.
Equipment is particularly important to female drivers, according to Ellen Voie, president of Women In Trucking. Voie has said that while many male drivers leave their positions due to home time issues, women tend to leave over equipment, either because they don’t feel comfortable in their truck or they fear their equipment may break down. Fleets that offer drivers reliable, safe equipment could be better positioned to expand their driver pool.