The importance of the trucking industry to the United States cannot be over-emphasized. It is one of the largest sources of revenue to the nation’s economy and was responsible for transporting over 72% of all goods in the U.S. in 2020.
The trucking industry alone generated over $732.7 billion in revenue, representing 80.4% of the nation’s freight bill in 2020.
The trucking industry also employs millions of workers and makes up about 6% of the nation’s workforce.
The chances that every item of clothing you have on, your wristwatch, shirt, shoes were moved by a trucker is very high.
Whatever you eat or use, thank a truck driver. Truckers move every conceivable item from computers to clothes to essentials and even cars.
The reason why you can get fresh fruits and vegetables daily is that a team of truckers delivered them to the market and shops close to you.
If the road network connecting our nation are the veins and arteries, then the trucking industry and truck drivers are the lifeblood that delivers our everyday needs to every nook and cranny of this country.
The survival of our economy as we know it depends heavily on truckers and their supply chain.
A threat to the trucking industry is a threat to the economy of this nation. It would probably grind to a halt within weeks if something should happen to this lifeline.
While the industry is of paramount importance to our economy, there are many factors that are starting to negatively impact the industry.
The industry is currently facing a serious shortage of truck drivers, and this is a huge problem that has been festering since 2015.
According to the American Trucking Association, the lead cause keeping the driver shortage high is the high average age of the current workforce.
The American Trucking Association estimated truck drivers’ shortage of about 100,000 in 2021. This is the difference between the number of drivers currently in the market and the optimal number of drivers based on freight demand.
The long-haul sector of the trucking industry is the most affected and struggles to find enough drivers.
More truckers are needed to fill the void.
Another effect of the high average age of current drivers is that it leads to a high number of retirements.
The average age of truck drivers is up to 46 years and above, existing drivers will start to retire soon. Some are also leaving the industry due to new stringent rules, as companies are getting strict on safety prioritization.
The industry is struggling to replace them.
Although the trucking industry is a predominantly male workforce, it is changing gradually as more women are getting into the industry and taking up truck driving jobs now more than ever.
Recruiting female drivers is difficult for the industry because the average salary of a truck driver is not very competitive, and includes spending a lot of time away from one’s family.
Women often wonder if they will be treated equally in an industry perceived to be masculine.
Generally, women and men truck drivers are treated the same way.
About a total of 8% of truckers are women and they enjoy equal pay and opportunity for advancement same as men.
Highly automated self-driving trucks have also started to emerge in the trucking industry.
Many drivers believe this may put them out of work and are seeking alternatives to the perceived loss.
However, automated trucks will still need human engagement, which could be a solution to the driver shortage in the industry and help reduce the number of accidents on roads.
Other factors that affect the trucking industry include:
- Some prospective and current drivers may be unable to pass drug tests, a problem aggravated by an increasing number of states that are legalizing the use of marijuana.
- The federal mandatory minimum driving age of 21 to drive commercially poses a challenge to recruiting new drivers
- The Covid19 pandemic caused some drivers to leave the industry, and some drivers are against mandatory vaccinations. This has put a further strain on the retention of truck drivers in the industry.
- Problems of infrastructure like a lack of truck parking spots, truck stops, and security for truckers cause drivers to stop driving earlier than they need to so they can get a good spot.
While there is no easy solution to the truck driver shortage, some companies have increased driver pay and earnings as incentives to retain their workforce. Statistics from the Department of Labor show that the average annual earnings of long-haul drivers are increasing.
While this is good for drivers and those looking to enter this occupation, it alone will not solve the driver shortage.
The solution to the shortage of truck drivers will require a combination of increased pay, regulatory changes, modifications to business practices, and improved conditions for drivers.
Who is a Truck Driver?
The trucking industry transports goods all over the nation as well as our bordering countries. Long-haul freight trucks carry a variety of goods, everything from food to cars to raw materials and oil. As the American Trucking Association puts it, “If you bought it, a truck brought it”.
Without truck drivers, our nation would not be the same, as it’s an essential occupation that helps keep the economy running smoothly and a lot of businesses rely on it for their everyday operations.
Truck drivers represent a big chunk of the nation’s freight bill with about $48 billion paid by commercial trucks in federal and state highway-user taxes in 2020.
Truckers drive over 400,000,000 miles per year nationally and internationally through interstate highways, cities, rural roads, and townships.
Although we have freight trains, truckers move over 80% of all the loads transported in a year. Without truck drivers and their big rigs, there would be chaos.
What do Truckers do?
Truckers are professionals and they mostly drive their rigs from one destination to another, hauling crucial and critical supplies that keep the nation running.
But it’s a lot more than just driving. They have to obtain certifications, training, and licenses to move freight.
They endure long drives in solitude and sometimes face abuses from other road users who feel irritated by their slow lumbering rigs.
Hazards of the Trucking Industry
Trucking like any other occupation can be dangerous and comes with its own peculiar hazards.
Although truck driving is rated as dangerous, over 80% of accidents involving truckers are caused by other drivers and road users.
Some drivers overestimate the speed and maneuverability of trucks. They feel they can cut in front of trucks and some fail to understand that fully laden trucks can’t slam to a halt like smaller vehicles.
Truck drivers also have to deal with fatigue. It takes a special skill to drive long-haul, even with stops along the way without getting tired.
Even though many rigs come with comfortable sleepers, they can’t replace the love and comfort of family and your own bed.
Some truckers try to make a few extra dollars by trying to endure driving with fatigue, this must always be avoided as it can lead to errors in judgment, slow reaction time, or even accidents.
Truck drivers have to constantly drive in less-than-ideal conditions. They drive through rain, windy conditions, fogs, snow, ice, and blizzards.
And they brave all these weather hazards to ensure that you can get your supplies.
With the distances truck drivers have to travel daily, combined with the long hours and tough working conditions, to a degree accidents and crashes are bound to happen.
Over the years, there has been an increase in crashes leading to fatalities. These accidents can occur from distracted driving or the behaviors of other drivers.
As a result of this increase, companies are starting to take driver safety more seriously to avoid liabilities.
Managing the Personal Health of Truck Drivers
Due to the nature of the truck driving occupation, drivers are prone to some ailments but there are ways to treat them.
Back pain – Because of the prolonged hours of sitting while driving, truck drivers are prone to back pains.
Doing some exercises and stretches at stops and allowing the muscles to relax helps with the back pain.
Poor diets – Eating healthy while constantly on the move may be difficult for truck drivers. They’re used to fast foods, junk food, and truck stop meals which may not be healthy. Some also eat a lot of sugary snacks to keep them company while driving.
The solution to this is to plan for trips and take healthy meals in packs, take easy-to-carry fruits like bananas and apples. Go easy on the candies and chocolates, if you must get tiny packs rather than the large ones. You may finish the full pack before you know it.
Sleep deprivation – Even though comfortable sleeper rigs are more commonly used, some long-haul drivers over-extend themselves, driving for long without getting the rest they need. This could lead to delayed reaction time, bad judgments, or even fatal accidents.
Truck drivers should get some sleep when needed to avoid sleep deprivation.
Obesity – Due to the long sitting hours, poor diet, and irregular sleep, drivers tend to be overweight or even obese.
Truckers can avoid obesity by living healthier with the above tips and getting the required rest.
With the right training and geotagging, trucking companies can now monitor and advise drivers on the need to rest.
The trucking industry is dynamic and has experienced major changes in recent years, it is still one of the nation’s most profitable sectors.
The future is not so bleak with the constant developments and technological advancements that can help create a safer work environment in the trucking industry.
Truck drivers are a crucial and important part of our economy and their impact will continue to make a difference in our everyday lives.