For years, the American Trucking Association (ATA) has been sounding an alarm: the trucking industry is desperately short on qualified drivers. In a report this year, the ATA indicated there was a shortage of roughly 60,800 drivers in 2018. That analysis concludes that the trucking industry will need to find around 1.1 million new drivers in the next decade if it wants to keep pace with projected demand.
Far from being an isolated problem, a dearth of truckers affects everyone. Freight trucks carry almost all consumer and commercial goods — especially food — across the US. If the labor force isn’t strong enough to support that transportation network, it could have a devastating impact on our economy.
However, there’s another, more insidious way that the shortage could cause problems: it may make our highways less safe. Overtaxed truckers are more likely to cause accidents, which can have dangerous consequences for other vehicles and road users. Here’s why the shortage has us concerned — and what drivers can do to protect themselves.
What’s Causing the Shortage?
The ATA has concluded that the high average age of America’s truck drivers is a major factor in the shortage. In other words, drivers are aging out, and there are simply no new employees to replace them.
Part of the blame for that can be placed squarely in commercial vehicle carriers’ hands. The average salary for long-haul truckers is about $43,680 per year, which is several thousand dollars below the US median household income. To combat that issue, many carriers have been offering signing bonuses and raising average wages. But even more pay may not be enough to solve the real root of the issue: making the job attractive to new workers.
Commercial drivers are subjected to extremely difficult working conditions. Workers are typically paid by the mile, which means they’re incentivized and often expected to work exceptionally long hours with little rest. While the federal government does mandate rest periods for drivers, drivers are required to be on the road, away from their homes, for days at a time with just a few hours of rest between shifts. Those factors certainly make the job less appealing.
How Does It Affect Drivers and Road Users?
The pressure placed on drivers to get to their destination is immense. In addition to the per-mile pay structure mentioned above, drivers are sometimes openly encouraged to falsify records of rest periods in order to reduce haul times. Rest periods are self-reported, which makes it easy for drivers to manipulate these documents. The rise of online shopping and rapid delivery has not helped the problem. According to industry site Trucks.com, the accident fatality rate for drivers has increased 11.2 percent, which the writers contribute to ecommerce and shrinking delivery timeframes.
It’s not just truck drivers who are harmed by this practice. In 2017, for instance, 4,102 people died in truck accidents, and only 17 percent of these individuals were commercial vehicle operators. In other words, passenger vehicle drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists are much more likely to be killed in an accident with a truck.
The demands of commercial carriers impact traffic safety in several ways. Drivers who are hurrying to get to their drop off point are more likely to speed, tailgate and generally engage in reckless driving. They also are at risk of falling asleep behind the wheel. According to the CDC, commercial truck drivers are more likely to engage in so-called drowsy driving, which can slow reaction times and even cause a driver to drift off.
Truckers are also more likely to drive while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. According to Insurance Journal, on any given day, an estimated one to ten percent of truck drivers are driving under the influence. The Oregon State Police’s “Operation Trucker Check,” which randomly tests truck drivers for alcohol and drugs, found that almost nine percent of all commercial vehicle operators tested positive for one of these substances. The most frequently-abused substances were marijuana and opiates, both of which increase a driver’s likelihood of causing an accident.
How Can You Protect Yourself?
Due to the elevated risk of commercial vehicle accidents, it’s imperative that all vehicle operators take extreme care to protect themselves by following these guidelines:
- Stay alert while driving, particularly on highways.
- Always practice defensive driving.
- Never tailgate or follow too closely behind a commercial vehicle.
- Give commercial vehicles ample room to make turns.
- Be cautious while passing an 18-wheeler or other large vehicle.
- If you have been involved in a collision with a semi-truck or other large truck, contact a commercial vehicle accident lawyer as soon as possible.
Here at FVF, we’re helping accident victims learn about their rights and options — and make informed decisions about their case. Our expert commercial vehicle accident lawyers offer free case evaluations so that those injured by truck drivers have the information they need to make those choices. Contact us today to schedule your free consultation.