Truckers give fleets ideas on how to fix turnover problem

October 25, 2021

Mark Schremmer

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If you want to understand the disconnect between trucking’s mega fleets and the folks who sit in the driver’s seat, then look no further than the American Transportation Research Institute’s list of the industry’s top concerns.

Each year, ATRI asks carriers and drivers to identify the main challenges facing the industry. For the fifth year in a row, carriers claimed that the driver shortage was the No. 1 issue even though the large fleets have a turnover rate hovering around 90%.

If the carriers want to decrease that staggering turnover rate, the drivers’ list gives them plenty of ideas of where they can start. According to drivers, the top industry concerns are driver compensation, a lack of truck parking, and excessive detention time.

Drivers’ top concerns

  • Driver compensation/Truck parking (tie)
  • Detention time
  • Fuel prices
  • Driver training
  • Hours of service
  • ELDs
  • Driver distraction
  • Infrastructure, congestion and highway funding
  • Speed limiters
  • CSA

Carriers’ top concerns

  • Driver shortage
  • Driver retention
  • Lawsuit abuse reform
  • CSA
  • Driver compensation
  • Insurance cost/availability
  • Diesel technician shortage
  • Infrastructure, congestion and highway funding
  • Driver distraction
  • Detention time

Better pay and working conditions

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has argued for decades that there is not a driver shortage. Instead, the Association says that the large fleets deal with a turnover problem caused by low wages and poor working conditions.

The evidence backs up OOIDA’s claims. Typically, about 400,000 or more commercial driver’s licenses are issued each year. According to recent comments from White House press secretary Jen Psaki, about 50,000 commercial driver’s licenses and learner’s permit are being issued each month in 2021. If that pace is maintained, that means about 600,000 CDLs and learner’s permits will be given out this year. It’s hard to claim there’s a shortage with those kinds of numbers.

But make no mistake, there is a turnover problem. In a matter of months, many of these new CDL holders will decide that trucking is not for them. And several of the reasons why are easily found on the drivers’ list.

A modest wage for a demanding job that forces the driver to be away from his or her family, deal with a slew of regulations, and race the clock to find a parking spot is a tough sell.

The average salary for a truck driver is $47,130, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Although that might seem like a decent wage at first glance, you must consider that it typically takes truckers working 60 to 70 hours per week to make that much. Truck drivers are not compensated for all of their time, leading to excessive amounts of detention time.

Instead of addressing the issues on the drivers’ list, the large fleets would rather find a new crop of teenagers who are unaware of all of the inequities.

‘Leaky bucket’

But as Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said earlier this year, lowering the driving age will not fix the industry’s problems with retention. Buttigieg described the problem as a “leaky bucket.”

“No matter how many people we pour into the industry for a moment, it’s not going to do us much good unless the jobs are reliable enough, secure enough and stable enough that people want to remain within the industry,” the U.S. DOT secretary said in July.

Buttigieg is right. If the large fleets really want to fix the problem, they must stop their cries of a driver shortage and start addressing the issues on the drivers’ list. LL

WW Williams

Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.