How the Truck Driver Shortage Is Impacting Shipping Capacity

Without truck drivers, your supply chain — and everyone else’s — would come to a screeching halt. Not only are they a critical component in moving shipments from one point to the next, but their expertise and dedication ensure deliveries are completed safely and on time. Hiring highly qualified and experienced truck drivers makes all the difference.

Over the past few decades, the U.S. has experienced an ever-growing truck driver shortage. Between 2005 and 2018, the industry has seen the truck driver shortage increase 200 percent (from roughly 20,000 to 60,800).

That, combined with the effects of COVID-19 on shipping capacity, has really had an impact on freight shipping rates. Trucks were already having trouble keeping up with demand due to lack of drivers. Then, COVID-19 increased demand substantially for essential goods, which led to an even more limited supply of capacity to keep up.

Finally, to pile on, the holiday shipping season arrived — which always puts a strain on coverage — and decreased the supply for trucks once again. That has shifted the range that shippers are essentially being forced pay to get their freight delivered, which is driving rates up across the board.

But what’s causing the truck driver shortage? And what can shippers like you do to reduce the impact this shortage has on your supply chain? We have answers.

What’s Causing the Truck Driver Shortage?

There are several reasons for the driver shortage, but these are three of the most significant factors.

1. Retirement

The general population of truck drivers is aging. In fact, the average age of commercial truck drivers today is 46 years old — about a half-decade older than the average age of workers in other industries.

Additionally, rampant misperceptions about the job have resulted in declining interest among younger people entering the job market. Tired stereotypes, such as that truck driving is an unhealthy, low-paying or dirty job, are simply not true.

In reality, drivers are professionals with plenty of opportunities for career growth, rapidly increasing earning potential, a high degree of independence and the freedom to see every corner of the country (while getting paid for it). Hear directly from our drivers about the opportunities that come with a career as a truck driver!

Unfortunately, undoing these misconceptions is challenging. Without a steady flow of new, younger drivers entering the field, numbers continue to dwindle as older drivers leave for retirement or less rigorous work.

2. Health Concerns

Long-haul trucking can be physically demanding work and potentially requires long periods of sitting while behind the wheel. This can dictate a driver’s ability to eat healthy and be physically active. After all, it can be difficult to be intentional about healthy habits outside of drive time when you’re under tight deadlines.

Additionally, as the COVID-19 virus spreads through the U.S., many drivers are becoming wary of potential exposure and are understandably limiting their exposure outside of their truck.

To combat this issue, smart carriers are offering more robust wellness programs to keep drivers in top shape on the road and equipping them with necessary PPE to protect against the spread of COVID-19.

3. Reduced Interest in Long-Haul Projects

Working as a driver has plenty of perks, but it also demands a lot of time away. Today, many drivers are more interested in local jobs and short-haul projects that will keep them close to their homes and families.

Luckily, many carriers are doing their best to offer drivers more flexibility with their over-the-road (OTR) schedules. For example, over the past several years, ATS has created options to get drivers home more often. And while many drivers prefer to be out for extended periods, many carriers recognize the importance of getting drivers home when they need or want to be home and take special measures to make it happen.

On June 1, 2020, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) revised four provisions of the hours-of-service (HOS) regulations to provide greater flexibility for drivers without adversely affecting safety. On Sept. 29, 2020, motor carriers were required to comply with the new HOS regulations.

How Is the Truck Driver Shortage Impacting Capacity?

Market interruptions, including events like the pandemic, can often halt or dramatically affect shipping of non-essential goods, clogging ports and creating a massive shipping backlog up and down the supply chain (from raw materials shipping to customer deliveries).

As carriers rush to play catch-up, there’s an ever-increasing demand for trucks, which has led to a capacity shortage that’s further compounded by the truck driver shortage.

Furthermore, with seasonality in shipping, like retail at the end of the year, machinery in the spring, etc., consumer demand is putting even more pressure on companies to ship higher volumes, faster.

Paired with the ongoing issue of having fewer qualified drivers in the market, these demands are being made with less turnaround/response time, maxing out carrier capacity and creating a snowball effect. In response, owner-operators can be choosier about the loads they take and, most often, opt for projects, lanes and/or loads that generate higher income.

What Can You Do to Reduce Supply Chain Disruption?

There are a few things shippers can do to survive the truck driver shortage and find capacity in spite of a busy retail peak season and beyond:

  • Choose reliable carrier partners: One of the best things you can be doing right now is forming stronger relationships with your preferred carriers. Just like in any other industry, truckload carriers (or trucking companies) have a core base of consistent customers with whom they’ve established long-term relationships. In a tight-capacity market, those carriers will often reward these long-standing relationships by giving partners priority access to their limited capacity.
  • Remain flexible: Be open to new ways of doing things and adding flexibility in one or both sides of your delivery schedules. For example, flexibility may mean allowing a reputable carrier to use vetted partner carriers to meet peak demands. Carriers may also be able to give you better access to different lanes if you opt for round-trip rather than one-way.
  • Plan ahead: Give carriers as much advance notice as you can. Even one or two days of advance planning can make a world of difference when it comes to route planning, securing capacity and identifying service options. Additionally, keep in mind that just-in-time (JIT) shipping can put a strain on carrier resources — especially when it comes to heavy haul or over-dimensional trucking projects that require careful route planning and permitting. In the event of emergencies, unexpected capacity needs or a JIT project, make sure you are aligned with a partner with the fleet size to accommodate network needs and the experience to handle your project with the same high-quality service you’d expect with pre-planned shipment.

It’s important to keep in mind that although heavy haul, flatbed and dry van shipping rates are rising, not all carriers are price gouging — some are accepting lower margins just to help their customers through this challenging and volatile time. By choosing heavy haul, dry van and flatbed truck carriers wisely, you can ensure you’re getting the fairest price for your projects, not just now, but for the long-term.

For over 65 years, ATS has been providing experienced, reliable trucking services for many industries. With lower-than-average-driver turnover rates, we have plenty of experience navigating through truck driver shortages and global crises. And, with an extended network of independent carrier capacity, we can always provide quality solutions at competitive prices. From flatbed trucking to dry van trucking, we offer a variety of options for your projects — and we employ some of the best technologies and drivers in the industry.

Want to learn more? Contact us today. Or reach out to request a quote for your dry van, heavy haul, over-dimensional or specialized flatbed shipping needs. Are you a driver? Find more about our driver program here.

Tags: ATS Highway, Heavy Haul Shipping, Specialized Flatbed Shipping, Over Dimensional Shipping, Dry Van Shipping, Truck Driver Shortage

Ben Delong

Written by Ben Delong

Ben joined ATS more than 11 years ago, playing key roles in Specialized Operations & Customer Service prior to taking on his current role as Director of the Heavy Haul team 8 years ago. In his leadership role, Ben oversees the sales and operations activities for the more than 150 highly specialized Drivers and 250 dedicated trailers on the ATS Heavy Haul fleet, as well as the ATS in-house planning and permitting teams. Together, Ben and his experienced team safely and successfully plan, permit & deliver more than 10,000 over-dimensional loads each year.

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