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As a leading driving force of the U.S. economy, the trucking industry remains the United States’ most crucial asset for commercial shipping. However, in recent years, the industry has finally reached the crossroads of a major crisis because not enough individuals are sitting behind the wheel transporting goods, equipment, products, and merchandise nationwide.

According to American Trucking Associations (ATA) the industry is facing a significant trucker shortfall of more than 30,000 drivers. This is thought to be caused by a lack of younger truckers, newly enacted safety regulations, and unattractive truck driver wages that seem to be stagnant at around $50,000 a year. In fact, when the wages of truckers are adjusted for inflation, today’s drivers earn significantly less than the truck drivers hauling freight in previous decades.

Higher Pay Will Not Solve the Problem

Many trucking companies, including Swift Transportation, are willing to provide better driver wages. However, the problem involves a lot more than financial compensation. Many local and national carriers vanished at the height of the financial crisis just a few years ago, losing their equipment and the ability to remain competitive when the lack of transportation needs to be diminished.

Today, many truck drivers will only stay in their job if given family-friendly hours with better pay. This means that many OTR (over the road) truck jobs are harder to fill because extended time away from home is unacceptable to many truckers. As a result, the turnover rate for many large truckload carriers specializing in long-haul deliveries has skyrocketed when compared to the loyalty of the workforce just a few years ago. According to ATA, at least 100,000 new truckers will be required over the next 10 years to fill the ever-increasing shortage.

Fewer Drivers Often Equates to Inexperience

While the industry is eager for more drivers, most of those applying for the positions are significantly younger and less experienced compared to other truckers sharing the roadway. Safety proponents have a real fear that many trucking companies will look the other way concerning safety regulations and hire less qualified truckers to take the wheel.

Already, one out of every 12 truckers on the road today cause CSA (Compliance Safety Accountability) problems for carriers. Additional issues arise over the FMCSA-facilitated pre-employment trucker screening program as trucking companies attempt to fill positions to meet the demands of a growing industry. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) provides trucking companies with the trucker’s three-year inspection history and five-year crash history and sets regulations including licensing requirements along with testing for drugs and alcohol, which greatly restricts who can apply and train for the job.

Owned and Operated Trucking

For many new truckers, the idea of owning and operating their own large rig is romantic. However, the promise of being their own boss and generating limitless income is in direct contrast to reality were leasing a truck can quickly drive the trucker out of business. This is because the significant costs involved in overhead and ongoing maintenance is often too much for a young inexperienced driver who must pay the bills, feed his family, and eat every day.

Owning and operating a truck is significantly different than drivers who are paid by the mile or hour. In those situations, truckers can receive a percentage of profits on the load. However, any problem with the delivery usually rips the driver off first while still providing profits to the trucking company.

Can the Shortfall Be Filled?

The business of loading and delivering cargo remains incredibly fragmented throughout the industry filled with shippers, receivers, and small and big trucking companies. There may be solutions to make trucking smoother in the future to minimize mechanical delays, maintenance stops, and waiting for hours on end and transition points. However, those solutions will take time.

In the meantime, some trucking carriers have turned to recruiters and are working in tandem with many of the nation’s top driving schools in an effort to swoon a new generation of drivers to fill the demand. In many cases, student truckers have secured a job long before they could obtain their commercial driver’s license after graduation day. Until the shortage of truckers has been eliminated, the problems with safety on the road will continue. Products and goods still need to make it to market by using the national trucking system even if it endangers the lives of others sharing the roads.