Despite the numerous challenges faced by the trucking industry during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the driver shortage is still considered the top issue facing the industry, according to the American Transportation Research Institute’s annual Top 10 Trucking Industry Issues survey.
A perceived shortage of available drivers has now ranked as the top industry issue for four consecutive years. ATRI says a number of drivers have left the industry due to the FMCSA Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse taking effect this year, along with drivers retiring or leaving the industry due to COVID-related health concerns, exacerbating driver availability challenges that faced the industry in previous years.
While the driver shortage was ranked as the top issue overall based on all responses, it was not in the top 10 issues as ranked by truck drivers.
For the second year in a row, driver compensation ranked in the Top 10 overall, moving up one spot to No. 2, based on responses from more than 3,100 trucking industry stakeholders. According to ATRI, many drivers believe the driver shortage and compensation are linked, and that the solution for recruiting and retaining drivers is to increase pay or modify pay models.
Drivers ranked compensation as their No. 2 issue facing the industry, but like with the driver shortage and how it’s viewed by drivers, fleets did not rank compensation as a top 10 issue.
Reaching its highest rank since first appearing on ATRI’s top 10 list in 2012 is truck parking, which ranked as the No. 3 issue facing the trucking industry in 2020. According to a joint study by ATRI and the OOIDA Foundation earlier this year, 44% of truck drivers indicated that truck parking was “somewhat harder” or “much harder” to find during the pandemic due to some states shuttering rest areas. Truck parking was the top issue as rated by driver respondents to the survey, but the issue did not appear in the top 10 for carrier respondents.
Other issues in the combined top 10 as ranked by carriers and drivers are: the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability program; insurance cost/availability; driver retention; tort reform; economy; detention/delay at customer facilities; and hours of service.
ATRI says insurance cost/availability appeared in the list for the first time since 2005, ranking fourth in the carrier concern list and fifth overall. Additionally, tort reform made the top 10 for the first time since 2011, ranking fifth on the carrier concern list and seventh overall.
“The impacts of litigation and growth of nuclear verdicts in the trucking industry was really apparent in this year’s list of concerns,” said ATRI President and COO Rebecca Brewster. “Earlier this year, ATRI quantified the growth in nuclear verdicts in the trucking industry, but even without that critical research, the fact that tort reform and insurance issues have resurfaced in the survey are a clear sign the industry is being impacted by rising costs related to litigation and insurance.”
ATRI also tracked emerging topics that ranked just outside the top 10 issues. For the second year in a row, driver distraction ranked as the No. 11 issue, despite carriers ranking it as the 8th-most important issue. Transportation infrastructure/congestion/funding ranked 12th, while COVID-19 ranked 13th. Infrastructure, congestion and funding have all been ranked in the top 10 in some form since at least 2011, but ATRI says the reduction in traffic this year due to COVID-19 shutdown orders in the spring likely caused the issues to fall out of the top 10 this year. Carriers still had infrastructure issues ranked in their top 10, however.