Trucker Shortage Reaches Record High

The impending federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate may worsen the issue.

November 01, 2021

Truck on the Road

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—The trucking industry is short by 80,000 drivers, which is a record high for the industry, according to the American Trucking Associations (ATA). ATA’s Chief Economist Bob Costello says that although new truckers are entering the industry, the number of new drivers isn’t keeping up with the increased demand for goods.

Costello says that based on driver demographic trends, including gender and age, as well as expected freight growth, the shortage could surpass 160,000 in 2030.

“Since we last released an estimate of the shortage, there has been tremendous pressure on the driver pool,” Costello said. “Increased demand for freight, pandemic-related challenges from early retirements, closed driving schools and DMVs, and other pressures are really pushing up demand for drivers and subsequently the shortage.”

The shortage of 80,000 drivers is based on the difference between the number of drivers currently in the market and the optimal number of drivers based on freight demand.

Although there isn’t a single cause for the shortage, reasons include:

  • High average driver age leading to retirements
  • Women only making up 7% of the driver demographic
  • Inability of some drivers to pass drug tests (before and during employment)
  • Federally mandated minimum driver age of 21
  • Drivers quitting because of the pandemic
  • Lack of work- and home-life balance, especially for long-haul markets
  • Infrastructure issues such as lack of truck parking spots and road congestion
  • Other barriers to entering the industry such as driving record or criminal histories

The Biden Administration’s vaccine mandate may also worsen the shortage. The oil-field services industry in particular is worried that vaccinations or regular testing will prompt highly sought-after truckers to quit.

Oil-field firms said that the majority of the truck drivers who haul fracking supplies, along with field-level workers, aren’t inoculated against COVID-19 and are wary of the shots. Many see quitting their jobs as their only option.
Trucking firms are offering sign-on and retention bonuses to attract and retain drivers. The labor crunch has firms raising wages and turning down jobs because they can’t meet the demand.

In a male-dominated profession, carriers are trying to appeal to women with a message about quality of work-life balance to shore up the driving ranks.

Recognizing the need for more female drivers, the bipartisan Promoting Women in Trucking Workforce Act (S. 469) seeks to create the Women of Trucking Advisory Board under the leadership of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to identify the elements that discourage women from entering the trucking industry and promote recruiting, training and mentorship programs. (Read more in “Women On The Road” in the October 2021 issue of NACS Magazine.)