Complaints about the driver shortage sound like a broken record. As e-commerce demands increase and the current driver force nears retirement, questions about the shortage’s economic impact are becoming more frequent. At the moment, only the trucking industry feels the effects. Freight rates are high. However, eventually high freight rates will translate into higher consumer prices. In an attempt to prevent consumer blow back, several ideas are bouncing around on how to bolster the trucking population.
Investing in autonomous technology is popular, and Uber, Waymo, and Tesla are just a few of the current players. The appeal comes from the ability to add more wheels on the roads without increasing the number of drivers. However, this technology has some safety snags. It may be years away from establishing true, driverless autonomy. So, while autonomous trucks are likely in the future, they do not help things right now.
Trucking is traditionally a male-dominated industry. Women only account for 6% of today’s truckers. Yet according to the 2010 Census, 50.8% of America’s population is female. If more women were attracted to the industry (and the number of current drivers stayed the same), the driver population would increase. Expanding the current driver demographic boosts numbers. So why stop at women? It’s time to start appealing to younger drivers as well.
Appealing to younger generations may require a cultural shift. Current laws prohibit CDL holders under the age of 21 from crossing state lines. If someone cannot join the trucking industry until age 21, it’s likely that individual will already be established in another industry: one that does not take them away from friends and family for weeks at a time. For the trucking industry to attract younger drivers who require a more balanced work-home life, regional or dedicated fleets may be the way to go.
The other option to attract younger drivers is the DRIVE-Safe Act (Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy Act). The DRIVE-Safe Act would allow individuals between 18 – 21 years to drive across state lines under the stipulation that these individuals complete a supervised apprenticeship program. These apprenticeships would be reliant on trucking company participation. Trucking companies who choose to participate in the DRIVE-Safe Act would be responsible for providing the experienced drivers and appropriate equipment for the apprenticeship program.
These are currently the solutions being put forth for the driver shortage problem. It may take one, all, or a mixture of these to actually arrive at a sustainable fix. It may also require something completely different. Nevertheless, for the time being, the truck driver shortage is not going away.