Though the estimated driver shortfall is expected to decline this year from last year amid a cooling freight market, the American Trucking Associations on Wednesday said the driver shortage will continue to worsen in the coming decade absent any shift in the trendline.
ATA predicts the driver shortage stat to land at 59,500 this year, down slightly from its estimated shortfall of 60,800 last year, and well up from ATA’s 2017 estimate of a shortage of 50,700.
Based on forecasts of freight demand and the expected supply of qualified drivers, that number could jump to more than 160,000 by 2028, says Bob Costello, chief economist at ATA.
The estimates of the shortage of drivers are based on “simply the difference between the number of drivers needed to move the amount of freight that is out there and the supply of drivers,” says Costello. He notes the driver shortfall is isolated mostly to the long-haul, over-the-road segment.
Though the driver shortage is an “operational hardship” for the supply chain currently, it could pose a major problem if it continues to worsen, says Costello. “If we continue down that line, it will be a problem for the industry, for the supply chain and for the broader economy,” he said.
Costello reiterated that the driver shortage is separate from the issue of driver retention, which also plagues fleets annually.
In a report issued Wednesday, “Truck Driver Shortage Analysis 2019,” ATA cites an aging driver pool, regulations, the tough lifestyle of the driving job and an inability to attract female drivers to the industry as key reasons for the lingering driver shortfall. Also cited are other blue collar job options, such as available jobs in the construction industry, and restrictive regulations like hours of service.
ATA advocates for driver pay increases, more at-home time for drivers, lowering the interstate driver age to 18 and improving the industry’s image as primary courses of action for mitigating the shortage. Transitioning military personnel to trucking careers and working to alleviate dwell times at shippers and receivers can also help mitigate the shortage, ATA says.
In the long-term, automated truck features that make the driving job easier could help attract new drivers to the industry. Long-term, “well beyond the dates of this report, one could envision an environment when the longer, line-haul portion of truck freight movements are completed by autonomous trucks,” ATA says in its report. But “motor carriers should not count on this being an option for many decades.”