It’s a Lonely World, Why America Has a Truck Driver Shortage?

The romance of the open road and the excitement of a cross-country journey are quickly dissipated by 19 days away from home. This is the life of an over-the-road truck driver. Eleven hours of driving, followed by Department of Transportation mandated, 10 hours of rest time, makes for some lonely days away from home. One week at home each month, filled with missed opportunities, guilt trips, and neglected chores, may not be the trade-off that works for many professionals.

The life of a truck driver is a lonely one, and it’s not a life everyone can lead.

Freight has to get to the stores; semi-trucks are the answer

For decades, the answer to bringing products over the road to their destinations has been semi-trucks, The people behind the wheel were heroes, asked to honk by passing children. More than 72 percent of American freight moves across the country using semis. A shortage of drivers in this industry can seriously impact the flow of goods and create trouble for retail stores that depend on the trucks to continue to move.

According to the New York Times, last year showed a deficit of 80,000 truck drivers as reported by the American Trucking Association. That’s 80,000 more trucks that could be on the road throughout the year, moving freight trailers to where they need to go. Some experts choose not to believe the reports of a trucker shortage, but store shelves, which have remained regularly empty for several months, tell a different story.

Turnover is extremely high in the trucking industry

Truck driver exhausted, resting head on steering wheel
Exhausted Truck Driver | USA Today

On average, trucking companies experience a turnover rate of roughly 95 percent annually. This puts most trucking companies in a position to replace their entire driver workforce each year, with only five percent of drivers continuing after the first year. This turnover rate occurs, even though more than 10 million Americans held commercial driver’s licenses in 2019, compared to the 3.7 million trucks requiring this certification.

Working conditions are to blame for the shortage of truck drivers

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Driving a semi-truck across the country, back and forth for days on end, isn’t just a lonely job; it’s a high-stress job. The drivers must meet deadlines, go wherever the trucking company sends them, and the safety of themselves and those around them at all times. Drivers must find ways to remain alert, leading to more caffeine than most people consume in a day.

All of the stress, too little exercise, too much caffeine, the rewards for truckers are:

  • Low pay
  • Lack of respect
  • Poor working conditions
  • Highly-demanding job

According to Smart Trucking, there isn’t a shortage of qualified individuals to handle the job; there’s a shortage of people willing to take on this challenge.

Trucking used to be a lucrative job

Two Semis passing each other on the highway
VEEDERSBURG, INDIANA: Commerce continues to roll on Interstate 74 as tractor-trailer trucks carry goods during the COVID-19 Pandemic, Monday, May 4, 2020, in Veedersburg, Indiana. (Photo by David Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The trade-off for the lonely lifestyle was one that many truckers were happy to make until the 1980s. One union represented the truckers as a whole, the Teamsters, which had enough power to ensure better pay and more favorable working conditions than most truckers find today.

When the industry was deregulated, new companies entered the mix, massive retailers built private trucking fleets, and pay dropped for the truckers while demands rose. The trade-off truckers had made was gone, and many left the industry.

A few strong truckers still get the job done

Happy truck driver in the cab
Happy Truck Driver | iStock Images

Still, some drivers have embraced the loneliness and lifestyle of trucking. Truckers like Stephen Graves work hard to make the most of being truckers. Mr. Graves has been behind the wheel of these big trucks for twenty years and continues to enjoy his time on the road. This is not without its challenges, but he is one of the rare few who have spent an entire career hauling products across the country.

Truck drivers aren’t willing to do the job

Look around your town; do you see the help wanted signs? We all see these signs, and we understand their meaning. Many businesses asking for more workers have jobs that many people don’t want to do. The same goes for cross-country truck drivers. Some companies have become so desperate they offer bonuses for drivers. Those who stay for specified periods and sign-on bonuses for new drivers. These bonuses are a healthy boost to the bank account, but they can’t improve the working conditions. The feelings of loneliness while on the road three out of every four weeks isn’t worth a bonus.

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