Thanks to protests and supply shortages in grocery stores, truckers have been in the news recently. No doubt truckers help the economy run smoothly. You can find popular trucking schools constantly graduating new truck drivers. So, if there are plenty of truckers to keep our goods moving, why are not enough trucks on the road? A former truck driver and current labor expert at the University of Pennsylvania, Steve Viscelli, has some thoughts on the matter.
There is no shortage of truckers, a former truck driver says
According to The New York Times, trucking companies in the United States reported a deficit of 80,000 drivers. Trucks move about 72% of American freight, and apparent driver shortages can cause significant disruption. There are shortages and significant disruptions in industries ranging from construction supplies and appliances to furnishings and grocery items.
In 2019, more than 10 million Americans held commercial driver’s licenses. So, if the work is readily available and there are more than enough people available to drive, why isn’t the work getting done?
“This shortage narrative is industry lobbying rhetoric … There is no shortage of truck drivers. There are just really bad jobs,” Steve Viscelli of the University of Pennsylvania claims.
“Until the 1980s, truck driving was a lucrative pursuit in which one union — The Teamsters — wielded enough power to ensure favorable working conditions,” Viscelli writes in his book, The Big Rig. “But the Carter administration deregulated the industry in the name of fostering competition, clearing the way for an influx of new trucking companies that diminished pay and increased demands on truckers.”
With their cheap freight and international goods, big-box retailers also caused a downgrade of the trucking career from the middle class to one “best avoided.”
Trucking isn’t a great career
Trucking is a lonely job. Being an over-the-road truck driver involves 19 days away from home, 11 hours of driving at a time, and mandated 10 hours of rest time. Trucking can be a promising career, but it is not for everyone, and it appears more drivers are catching on to this.
Driving all over the country is not only a lonely job but also a stressful job. Truckers have to meet deadlines and go wherever their trucking company sends them. Truck drivers also have to be hyper-aware of other motorists and ensure others’ safety and their own. That means truckers must find creative ways to stay awake and alert for long periods.
Plus, there isn’t enough time for cooking healthy meals or getting adequate exercise, leading to the possibility of poor health conditions.
So, when you’re looking at low pay, poor benefits, stress, lack of respect, poor working conditions, and loneliness, is it any wonder more truckers are walking away from that life?
There is hope to fix the trucking problem
If we’re going to keep the economy flowing smoothly, we need to find a solution to truck drivers leaving the industry. According to Smart Trucking, some companies have acknowledged the problem and are working toward resolutions.
A few of the possible solutions include:
- Increased mileage rates: Some companies offer higher mileage rates and bonuses.
- Recruiting foreign drivers and other groups: Some companies are reaching out to ex-military, women, and foreign drivers; some people in the industry are also pushing to lower the driving age from 21 to 18.
- Longer trailers: Longer trailers are beginning to show up so that more goods can be moved on each trip.
- Autonomous semi-trucks: Autonomous semi-trucks can work round-the-clock and don’t need rest stops. Drivers and autonomous semi-trucks can work together to get the work done more efficiently.