The Great Truck Driver Shortage of 2021 is a popular topic in mainstream news this fall. It’s low-hanging fruit for national and local reporters to point to as the cause of the supply chain problems plaguing the U.S. But is it that simple?
It’s no question that driver recruitment and retention has been top of mind for the trucking industry and that driver capacity constraints are a growing concern. But to Shawn Kitchen, director of operations at True Load Time and former driver, recruiter, trainer, and fleet safety manager, there is no driver shortage.
“The industry doesn’t have a turnover problem, it has a retention problem,” explained Kitchen in a webinar sponsored by Transflo. “You have to be transparent with your drivers about the great things as well as the bad things.”
Driver wages and benefits remain a top cost for commercial carriers and a top concern for drivers, who are becoming more and more difficult to find. To further compound an already big issue in the industry, trucking’s longstanding per-mile, activity-based compensation structure for drivers can be not only inconsistent, but it can be incredibly confusing at times.
Many trucks today, for instance, have automatic emergency braking systems that can help prevent a crash. However, the idea is to never need that system to brake, according to Clark Reed, company driver and trainer for Nussbaum Transportation. That’s where proper training comes in.
If you’re in a place like Atlanta, you get long lines at many gas stations, while as of the morning of May 12, 71% were completely out, according to Patrick De Haan, an analyst for Gas Buddy, an app that tracks fuel prices. He also tweeted that three out of four stations are closed in many North Carolina cities, from Asheville to Greenville, while two-thirds of stations are running dry in Norfolk and Newport News, Va., a major shipping and military hub. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard for logistical support.
The lack of safe parking has been an issue for commercial truck drivers for years, interfering with their ability to take necessary rest periods to avoid fatigue and practice proper safety habits. To combat this, House Representatives Mike Bost (R-Ill.) and Angie Craig (D-Minn.) have introduced the Truck Parking Safety Improvement Act with the goal to establish a set-aside source of funds from existing U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) funding to create safe parking spots.
The jury is still out, but odds are that at least some of the regulatory activity involving the trucking industry that was not acted upon in the four years under the Trump administration will be considered by the Biden administration.
Although this year’s grade is an improvement from the dismal D+ that the ASCE gave the nation’s infrastructure in 2017, 11 of the 17 categories in this year’s report card received a grade in the “D” range — and that includes roads.