Freight Driver Shortage: How Can It Affect Safety?

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The trucking industry is facing a manpower problem. Many of the truck drivers working today have been doing so for many years, and the average age of truck drivers is 49, much higher than other industries. Over time, the number of new truck drivers entering the workforce has declined, and trucking companies are starting to feel a range of effects. One concern for many trucking companies and fleet owners is the driver shortage’s effects on driver safety.

How Bad is the Driver Shortage?

Truck driving is a dangerous and often stressful job. Truck drivers must drive several hours at a time and meet tight deadlines. They must also adhere to strict regulations for their hours of service, work hours per week, and required rest and sleep breaks. Trucking companies and private companies in need of drivers for their fleets are looking for new ways to attract younger drivers to the industry to hopefully curb the continuing driver shortage.

The American Truckers Association reports about 48,000 unfilled trucker positions for 2017. The shortage was only 20,000 in 2005, and industry analysts predict the shortage could worsen to 170,000 vacant positions by 2025. As more and more aging truck drivers retire, logistics providers and shipping companies are worried that an older workforce will suddenly disappear with no one to replace them.

Safety Risks Posed by Driver Shortage

Truck driving can be a lucrative career, but the stringent regulations and apparent lack of freedom deters many young people entering the workforce from exploring the possibility of becoming truck drivers. As companies struggle to meet customers’ demands and keep their shipping schedules on track, safety considerations could fall by the wayside.

While driver errors cause many trucking accidents, it’s important to recognize how the lifestyle of a truck driver and the way the industry works can influence driver behavior. Some drivers push themselves too far without adequate rest to meet deadlines. Others neglect proper nutrition or use drugs and alcohol to make it through shifts. Overworked truck technicians could overlook crucial issues with the vehicles they service. Additionally, trucking companies and fleet owners in need of drivers may pounce on the first available applicants and hire them without proper vetting. Over time this will lead to more employee turnover and a higher risk of those companies incurring liability for accidents caused by unfit drivers.

Robotic Relief on the Horizon?

Automation technology is changing many industries, and some analysts in the trucking industry report that automation could help assuage the concerns caused by the driver shortage. Autonomous vehicles will soon take to the roads in larger numbers, and once perfected this technology could help fleets struggling with the driver shortage. Automation can also help cut down on time wasted while waiting for loading and unloading. Automated tracking systems will help identify problematic routes, hazards, and other factors that cause time constraints.

Ultimately, an influx of new drivers and technological advances could affect the truck driver shortage problem in various ways, and only time will tell what will happen. For now, trucking companies and fleet owners should be pursuing leaner operations without sacrificing the quality of their truck driver training and maintenance standards.