Truck drivers enjoy many of the benefits earned by those who came before them. Working as a CDL driver did not always come with the wages and job security the men and women of the open road currently enjoy. Getting to where truckers are today cost a lot of sweat equity and millions of miles logged.
If you talk with a veteran trucker, they probably have stories about good times and hard times. But don’t let that make it seem as if no trucking industry challenges exist. The fact of the matter is that every generation in the US trucking industry faces some type of adversity. Although high wages and job security may not be among the trucking industry challenges in 2019, there are many factors that still affect professional drivers and trucking companies operating in the current environment.
Driver Shortage Reaches Critical Mass
The fact that the United States does not have the professional truck driving workforce to meet its needs is not a recent phenomenon. It has remained a concern near the top of the trucking industry challenges for years. But it has been more than a decade since the driver shortage was the single most crucial problem facing the freight sector.
The booming economy has been both a blessing and a curse for the US trucking industry. On the one hand, there is certainly no shortage of truck driving job opportunities for drivers. But according to industry experts such as the American Trucking Association (ATA), upwards of 57 percent of the workforce has crossed the 45-year-old mark. The ATA reportedly estimates that retirements and attrition could result in a driver shortage of 174,000 by 2026.
Efforts are being made to increase the number of people earning a CDL and entering good-paying positions. According to reports, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association has a pilot program underway that would open the door for 18- to 20-year-olds to haul freight on interstates. This fledgling program is limited but serves as a tremendous opportunity for young people to start a truck driving career.
The Women in Trucking Association (WIT) continues to reach out to women who may not have recognized that opportunities exist regardless of gender. The driver shortage presents increased opportunity for women who see themselves earning the same wages men driving a truck.
Deficient Infrastructure Costing Time, Money
If you asked the average American which country ranked the highest in terms of highways and infrastructure, they might say, “The US, of course.” Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. Research by resources such as Statista rank the US at ninth. Others peg America’s roads, bridges and interstates even lower.
Singapore, Switzerland, Netherlands, Portugal and Hong Kong held the top five spots in 2018, according to Statista. Such subpar conditions remain one of the inherent trucking industry challenges. The American Transportation Research Institute reports that traffic congestion cost the industry upwards of $74.5 billion in 2016.
The Trump Administration has been calling for a massive infrastructure spending bill that could range anywhere from $1 trillion to $2 trillion. There appears to be bipartisan support for an infrastructure package. Given the divisive politics in Washington, D.C., it may be too early to feel hopeful that this long-overdue issue could be addressed.
Tariffs and the USMCA Deal
Hard-working American truck drivers were not always getting their fair share of drivable hours under NAFTA. The administration has completed negotiations with Mexico and Canada to reach an accord. Under the new United States, Mexico, Canada Agreement (USMCA), officials can limit the border-crossing truck operations that were siphoning off American work. The problem for the great American trucker is that Congress has not ratified the deal to date. Divisive politics and gridlock are again unnecessary trucking industry challenges.
Should Congress fail to ratify the USMCA, the Trump Administration could lawfully withdraw from NAFTA and enter into bilateral agreements with each country. In recent months, tariffs have been eased. Hopes are high that the USMCA will become official in all three countries before the year’s end.
Safety Concerns Continue
Driving an 18-wheeler with a full load at a high rate of speed makes safety job one. Safety issues are a top priority for professional truck drivers each and every year.
In the old days, the primary safety risk was driver fatigue because there were few limits on drivable hours. Drowsiness led to too many highway crashes and fatalities. The Department of Transportation has implemented reasonable, common sense hours of service regulations to avoid excessive time behind the wheel. However, these are safety tips to avoid danger.
- Check Weather Reports: Inclement weather negative impacts driving conditions. It may increase the amount of time it takes to come to a full stop, limit visibility, and create dangerous road conditions. Bad weather also increases the risk that a non-professional driver will make a mistake that puts others in harm’s way.
- Increase Space Cushions: Professional drivers occupy a sometimes unenviable position of driving slower than vehicles around you. Experienced drivers understand that moving violations such as speeding tickets can impact your ability to earn a living. That being said, when commuters are driving 15 to 20 mph over the limit, leave yourself a viable space cushion between you and the vehicle ahead of you. Rush hours generally come with car accidents.
- Use Pro-Level GPS: While just about every Smartphone and electronic device has some form of GPS, there are applications designed specifically for CDL holders. These pro-level GPS systems provide critical information such as exits, traffic reports, and even truck stops along your route. Having this level of intel can reduce a great deal of stress. It also helps truckers to focus on the road instead of trying to figure out how to know which is your exit.
- Vehicle Safety Checklist: Before taking any load out on the road, the rig’s safety conditions should meet your standards. Consider crafting a safety checklist that includes tires, load balance, braking systems, among others. Run through that list before leaving the yard.
Year-in and year-out, there will be trucking industry challenges to face and overcome. Maybe that’s why the men and women who deliver America’s goods and materials deserve the robust wages they earn. Although there will always be obstacles, there may be no better time to start your career in the trucking industry.