Over the course of about 15 years, the supply of truck drivers in the U.S. has dwindled. This means the trucking industry has been dealing with the growing problem of a US driver shortage – in particular, long-haul drivers – for while. At the same time, there is even a greater demand for shipments to arrive to consumers quickly. With more than 70% of the goods in the US being transported by truck, this dynamic is having a big impact on the logistics industry.
Freight demand also remains on the rise, thanks to the strong U.S. economy and growth of e-commerce shopping. According to an analysis by DAT Solutions, only one truck is available for every 12 loads that need to be shipped. It also stated that the average cost to hire a truck has risen to $2.11 per mile at the beginning of this year. Industry leaders have been voicing their concerns for several years, but only now is the shortage becoming evident in the economy.
The truck driver shortage is leading to delays in US shipments, in particular, for retailers as they wait for trucks. Or, many are being forced to pay a premium for those shipments that cannot be late. On a macro-level this is important because eventually, the cost of freight will become cost-prohibitive in relation to the cost of goods – and there will be less output in the U.S. economy.
The trucking industry has had a difficult time attracting drivers, especially for long-hauls, which require long periods of time on the road. While trucking companies are ordering more trucks in order to meet demand, there is no one to drive them. The ATA claims that the driver shortfall could be as high as 50,000 jobs by the end of this year, and up to 175,000 by 2026.
The problem is exacerbated by a lack of qualified drivers—the current fleet of drivers is aging, with no one coming up through the ranks to replace them. Demographics are working against the industry with the average age of a U.S. commercial driver being 55 years old.
Adding to the woes of the trucking industry is the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate that went into effect at the end of 2017. With electronic devices, instead of a paper log, now monitoring drivers’ hours behind the wheel, drivers must comply with the limited hours. Analysts predict some drivers will drive less miles per day since they are now being regulated by federal law. Instead of a route taking one day, for example, it may now take two, which means next-day delivery just got more expensive.
The lack of truck drivers is already having an impact on the logistics industry and U.S. economy, as freight is a crucial factor. Unless a sizeable new fleet of drivers is recruited, perhaps by increasing the starting pay, the trend towards more shipping delays and higher prices will continue.