ATRI: Driver shortage is still No.1 issue

by Abdul Latheef

ARLINGTON, Va. – The shortage of drivers remains the most pressing issue affecting the trucking industry, the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) said Tuesday.

Driver compensation and retention, parking and soaring insurance premiums are among the other key issues cited by ATRI’s 16th Top Industry Issues report.

Source: ATRI

“For the fourth year in a row, the driver shortage was the top industry issue overall, as well as topping the motor carrier list of concerns, highlighting the challenges fleets face in recruiting new talent and keeping their current drivers,” ATRI said.

“In fact, driver retention was carriers’ No. 2 issue, and sixth on the combined list.”

Bob Costello (right) and Danny Smith at Tuesday’s ATA webinar. (Screen grab)

The report was discussed Tuesday afternoon by a panel of experts at the American Trucking Associations’ Management Conference and Exhibition.

“It is a very complex issue. We have had this for a number of years,” said Bob Costello, chief economist at ATA.

Eric Fuller
Eric Fuller. (Screen grab)

“What is interesting is the driver shortage went away in April and May, and now it is back as bad as ever. It is not going to go away anytime soon.”

Eric Fuller, president and CEO of U.S. Xpress, said more than 40,000 drivers have left the market in the past six months alone due to various reasons.

“That is a big deficit that I don’t know can be filled in a short period of time,” Fuller said.

Driver compensation

Driver compensation was the No. 2 issue on the Top 10 list.

“The first time driver compensation showed up as an issue was on last year’s survey, when it came in at No. 3,” said moderator Rebecca Brewster, president and COO of ATRI.

“Here’s just a little interesting factoid: the very first Top Industry Issues survey we did in 2005, driver shortage was the No. 2 issue that year, but the No. 1 strategy for dealing with driver shortage was listed as increased driver pay,” she said.

Rebecca Brewster. (Screen grab)

Danny Smith, America’s Road Team Captain and a driver with Big G Express, said there are multiple things that could affect compensation. They include detention, hours of service and retention.

The panelists agreed that the drivers deserve better compensation.

“I have yet to find a fleet that said drivers don’t deserve (better pay), In fact, they deserve a lot more,” said Costello.

“But in an industry running on such thin margins, how do you pay that? Costello asked.

Fuller said the driver’s situation is very difficult, and it is hard to find drivers in this environment.

“So, I think pay has to go up.”

The economy

The report named the economy as the No. 8 issue, up two spots from last year, drawing Costello’s attention.

“Think about it! There we are, in a global pandemic. We just saw the steepest yet shortest recession in history. And, it is only at No. 8,” he said.

“I think that just speaks volumes for where we are as an industry in the economic cycle right now,” Costello said.

Here are the Top 10 issues identified by ATRI:

  1. Driver shortage
  2. Driver compensation
  3. Truck parking  
  4. Compliance, safety and accountability
  5. Insurance availability and cost
  6. Driver retention
  7. Tort reform
  8. The economy
  9. Driver detention
  10. Hours of service

More than 1,000 truck drivers responded to the survey. Parking, compensation and detention were their top concerns.

In all, ATRI received responses from 3,122 truck drivers, motor carriers and other industry stakeholders – an all-time record for the 16-year-old survey, the organization said.

“Having such a robust sample gives us a very accurate picture of what issues are of most concern to the trucking industry,” said ATRI’s Brewster.

“With this information, the industry can best target its resources to address trucking’s concerns.”

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  • Supply and demand rules, its that simple.
    An industry filled with over regulated legislation isn’t helping either , stress, anxiety, low pay , etc….6months ago we were an essential service , when there was no bathroom tissue to be had or food shelfs were running empty, run hard , your our hero today…that seems to be fading as well as we move forward its now a requirement added to your responsibilities!

  • The solution to all these problems, as well as the problems associated with an increase in the number of accidents, only in the prohibition of salaries for miles !!!
    No matter how sophisticated companies and legislators may be, nothing will help them as long as the income of truck drivers depends on the number of miles, therefore it is not guaranteed, discriminatory and forcing the driver to constantly work under the pressure of fear of being left without income, despite the time spent on work !!!
    Salaries have stagnated for decades, as drivers compensate for the lack of income with a large number of working days, sometimes reaching 28 per month with a daily work of 10-14 hours. The profession of truckers is not recognized as a profession, that is, a trucker has a qualification level as a cleaner or a salesman. Who needs such a profession ?! No respect, no guaranteed pay and no prospects.
    If you want to prevent a collapse – forbid the salary for miles !!! This will increase competition and remove the ability of companies to cheat drivers !!!
    Foreign drivers won’t help! They receive the documents and immediately look for how to leave the tracking!

  • Can you please tell us where all of the freight is sitting that needs to be hauled, but can’t, because if the “driver shortage”? I have yet to hear if any.

  • There is a great shortage of cheap drivers!
    But cheap is never good! Miser pays twice! It’s time to understand this already!

  • I believe someone mentioned this a while ago. If you want to make money in trucking, get out of the dry van segment and get into specialized trucking, like tanker, flatbed, oversized etc. The only catch is, you may have to physically work to earn your wage.