Worries Over Driver Shortage Outweigh Improving Market

GRAPEVINE, Texas — The truck driver shortage dominated the discussion here at the Truckload Carriers Association’s annual meeting, tempering an otherwise mostly positive outlook for the industry and the overall economy.

The industry is doing well on most fronts, except for the seat in the truck cab. This is the year of the driver, a couple years ago, we would all say customer is No. 1. Well, today, driver is No. 1, driver No. 2, driver No 3, customer No. 4.”

Besides the driver shortage, executives met to develop potential solutions to the highway-funding crisis that could curb the trucking industry’s ability to grow and to meet shippers’ demands.

To attract and retain drivers, carriers are starting to pay higher wages and are talking to shippers about how they can become more driver-friendly.

We’ve just got to do a better job of really getting the shippers onboard with this problem — and some shippers understand that, but many of them don’t and don’t care.

Shippers need to help create lanes where drivers can run enough hours to make a living but not so many hours that they’re exhausted. They also need to avoid long detention times for drivers and do simple things like clean their yards so truck tires don’t blow out and delay drivers for hours.

TCA President Chris Burruss said that, given the difficulty in finding drivers, the industry is looking at how it can raise wages and increase home time.

“If we can’t find people who want to do the job, then what’s wrong with the job?” Burruss asked. “And if we have to think about changing some things to make it more desirable, then I think we have to start having those discussions.”

Gary Salisbury, CEO of Fikes Truck Line in Hope, Ark., said he believes the rapid adoption of telematics has cost trucking its older drivers, who are fearful that they cannot learn to use such things as electronic logging devices.

Drivers also spoke about the ELD proposal, which would require commercial drivers to log their work hours electronically. One veteran driver described himself as “computer illiterate” and said he must use paper logs if he is to remain in the industry.

Another driver said he has used ELDs and does not like them, but conceded they do certain things well.

Owner-operators generally supported testing as a way to improve highway safety, and brokers were opposed to testing.