Is the Trucking Industry Heading for a Crisis?

The trucking industry has a huge problem, and most people don’t even realize it. Experienced truckers are retiring, new drivers are leaving, and crashes are rising year after year. Without change, these problems will snowball until they can’t be ignored. Simply put, the trucking industry is heading for a crisis.

What’s the Problem?

The average American truck driver is about 55 years old and looking toward retirement within the next decade. Many of these truckers started driving in their early twenties and stuck with it as their single occupation throughout their entire career.

Young people are less interested in trucking jobs. Many turn the job down because of long hours away from home, sitting all day, and being stuck in traffic, among other concerns. Of the few young drivers who enter the industry, the majority leave within two years. At present, the trucking industry’s turnover rate hovers around 97%. This change in the labor force is creating a rift that threatens the whole industry.

At present, there are about 2.5 million truck drivers in the U.S., and even then, there are 80,000 open driver positions. Each open position means more money lost for the trucking companies as packages aren’t getting delivered as quickly as they could be.

On top of this, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is cracking down on driver use of drugs and alcohol while working. Recently, 30,000 truck drivers were disqualified from work due to drug abuse. While that should make the roads safer, it means more pressure on active truck drivers and less margin for error in terms of travel time.

Likewise, with the continued growth of e-commerce and a “next-day delivery” mindset, the backlog of waiting packages grows a little bigger every day. Soon, the trucking industry won’t be able to keep up with demand.

As an estimated half of all experienced drivers plan to retire within the next five years, the trucking industry faces immense pressure to get as many people driving as possible, and that’s the problem.

What Does All That Mean?

The trucking industry faces a crisis. Fewer experienced truck drivers on the road means an increase in accidents. This is already happening; over the past 5 years, truck accident fatalities have risen by 20%. As more experienced truckers retire, it seems likely that there will be more accidents year after year.

What’s especially frightening about an increase in truck accidents is that this is with a strong base of experienced truckers. Currently, there are about 135,000 injury-causing semi-truck accidents per year split between America’s 2.5 million truck drivers. That means each truck driver has a roughly 1-in-20 chance of hurting someone in a truck accident each year. With more inexperienced drivers on the road and truck fatalities rising, it’s not hard to imagine those numbers looking much worse in the next decade.

Not only will there be fewer truckers on the road, but those who remain may be pressured into long-haul routes and 14-hour driving days they may not be prepared for. Data from the FMCSA suggests that pressure from management was a significant contributing factor in truck drivers’ use of medications (such as amphetamines and narcotics) and in their likelihood of falling asleep at the wheel.

The startling conclusion from this is that there may be fewer truck drivers in 2025 and, paradoxically, more truck accidents.

What’s the Trucking Industry Doing About It?

The trucking industry has foreseen the impending crisis, and they’ve taken steps to protect their interests. Some companies are so desperate, they’ve increased driver pay by as much as 10%. That’s just one prong of the trucking industry’s approach to driver shortages. Their greater efforts are much more frightening.

The trucking industry has been lobbying the government to reduce the requirements needed to earn a commercial driver’s license (CDL). The trucking lobby claims skilled drivers shouldn’t be held back by a required number of classroom “theory” hours or hours behind the wheel. They assert that an aspiring truck driver should take their skills test and get their CDL as soon as they’re comfortable driving. The industry calls this the “skills-based approach.”

Under the new rules, a new truck driver is not required to spend time in the classroom learning the basics. So long as they can score 80% on the written test, they earn a permit. From there, they are only required to have 30 hours of behind-the-wheel experience before they can test for their CDL. With a CDL in hand, a driver can start working, hauling cargo on public roads and highways.

Could That Cause More Problems?

While some new drivers may be skilled enough to take their driver’s test immediately, the majority are not. This creates a situation where a new truck driver may not understand their no-zone, or how to properly go over a steep hill, or what to do in a storm.

More drivers with less experience is good for the trucking industry, but it’s bad for the public. There’s no denying that crashes and fatalities are increasing. If something doesn’t change to dramatically improve truck driver training and retention, it seems inevitable that truck accidents will rise over the next decade.

If you or someone you love suffered catastrophic injuries or even wrongful death in a truck accident, we can help. If you’d like to schedule an appointment with an experienced truck accident attorney from Dunk Law Firm, please don’t hesitate to call (800) 674-9339 or send us an email.

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