The American Trucking Associations says that by the end of this year, the truck driver shortage will hit a historic high of just over 80,000 drivers.
The ATA estimate is the difference between the number of drivers now working and the optimal number of drivers based on freight demand.
The need for long-haul drivers is the most acute, said the group, which cites the causes as many:
The average age of current drivers is causing a lot of retirements, and the field is heavily dominated by men, so the number of available workers is reduced. Also, some would-be drivers cannot pass a drug test, exacerbated by the growing number of states that have legalized marijuana, while it is still a federally banned substance.
Also, the Covid pandemic has caused some drivers to leave the field, at the same time truck driver training schools are training far fewer drivers than they did in 2020.
The group also cited a problem with having 21 as the federally mandated minimum age for truckers to drive commercially across state lines. Things like criminal records or poor driving records also contribute.
The ATA says that by 2030, there could be a need for more than 160,000 more drivers, if this trend continues.
“This forecast is based on driver demographic trends, including gender and age, as well as expected freight growth. As part of this study, ATA estimates that over the next decade, the industry will have to recruit nearly 1,000,000 new drivers into the industry to replace retiring drivers, drivers that leave voluntarily (e.g., lifestyle) or involuntarily (e.g., driving records or failed drug test), as well as additional drivers needed for industry growth,” the group announced.
The trends do not account for the impact of potential laws that may either alter the industry dynamics positively (e.g., lower the minimum age to drive across state lines) or negatively (e.g. regulatory mandates that push drivers to exit the industry or be less efficient), ATA wrote.
Recently, driver pay and earnings have gone up significantly, for a career that was already a path to the middle class for Americans without a college degree. Indeed.com says the average pay for a trucker in Alaska is $64,436. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that most dump truck drivers earn a median salary of $34,000 per year.
The Department of Labor says the average earnings of production and non-supervisory employees, with the vast majority of those being driver occupations in the long-haul for-hire truckload industry, is increasing roughly five times the historical average.
“While this is good for drivers and those looking to enter this occupation, rising pay rates alone will not solve the driver shortage because some drivers will choose to work less at a higher pay rate, negating the impact of the increase. The solution to the driver shortage will most certainly require increased pay, regulatory changes and modifications to shippers’, receivers’ and carriers’ business practices to improve conditions for drivers,” according to ATA.