The importance and pervasiveness of the trucking industry is indisputable, responsible for moving 75 percent of all freight. It is an essential pillar of our economy, necessary to every business from tiny local burger joints to doctors’ offices to the massive Walmarts and Costcos of the country, as well as to industries like chemical distributors, who delivered 30.7 million tons of product over 415.7 million miles last year.
Unfortunately, our nation is currently experiencing the worst truck driver shortage in history. The American Trucking Associations estimates that the U.S. will be short 63,000 drivers by the end of 2018, and that number could balloon to 174,000 unfilled driver positions by 2026. In order to keep up with demand, the trade group estimates that the trucking industry would need to hire nearly 90,000 drivers each year through 2026.
This shortage is so severe that consumers will experience price increases and delayed delivery times across multiple sectors, and in some cases they already have. Earlier this year, Amazon increased the cost of its Prime program that promises two-day delivery by 20 percent, and General Mills and Tyson Foods have both announced that costs will increase due to never-before-seen rises in freight costs. According to DAT Solutions, the cost of shipping a good that doesn’t require refrigeration or other special accommodation has seen a nearly 40 percent increase from 2017.
One of the major drivers behind the shortage is an aging workforce. The median age for a truck driver is 49 or higher, and as the older population begins to retire, we can only expect the shortage to get worse. This is exacerbated by the fact that the current age limit for interstate trucking is 21 years old and a patchwork of state laws impose high insurance requirements on younger people getting started in the industry, meaning a young, vibrant workforce seeking high-paying, stable employment is going untapped.
Fortunately, solutions are making progress in Washington, D.C. The White House is seeking to advance a pilot program that would allow drivers under 21 with training and experience in the military to engage in interstate trucking. The DRIVE Safe Act, which would lower the interstate driving age to 18 and implement a rigorous two-step training program, increasing safety while bolstering the workforce, has been introduced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
So, what can NACD members do in the meantime to deal with the driver shortage? First, call your Congressman and Senator and urge them to support the DRIVE Safe Act. You can find out who your representatives are here. Or send them an email through NACD ChemReACTions. Explore using a combination of transport modes, be it tank trucks, box trucks or rail, and keep strong relationships with third-party logistics providers. If you own your own fleet, look for ways to encourage drivers to work for you by offering incentives and strong benefits.
We’d love to hear from you on any tactics you’ve employed to deal with the shortage and keep commerce moving, so please don’t hesitate to reach out with tips.