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There have been quite a few articles lately decrying the shortage of qualified truck drivers.


There is no shortage. There are plenty of well qualified and experienced drivers in the labor pool who are currently unemployed, or working other types of jobs. So, where does the "shortage" come from?

If we rephrase the statement, the answer becomes immediately apparent:

There's a shortage of drivers willing to drive trucks given current pay levels and working conditions.

Let's take a look at just what goes on in the trucking industry.

First, since truck drivers are subject to Federal Hours of Service regulations, they're not covered by things like the minimum wage and overtime provisions. Most companies consider the DOT limits to be the standard work week — in other words, 70 hours in an eight day period. No overtime.

Most companies pay by the mile. Usually this is what as known as "Household Goods Mover's Guide" miles. This runs around 8-10% fewer miles that a driver has to actually travel to move a load. A few pay on "Practical Route" miles. This is a lot closer to reality, and generally is within one or two percent of actual miles. A very few pay on "Hub Miles". Basically, this is odometer mileage — in other words, actual travel distance.

The big thing about mileage-based pay is that drivers don't get paid for all of the work they do. Stuck in traffic? Waiting at a loading dock? Effectively, drivers get NO pay for that. Not many of us really like working for free. The line that companies use (for that, and everything else) is "It's included in your mileage rate". How much is included? 1 hour? 10 hours?

Other companies use a percentage-based pay system. Drivers get a percentage of the revenue from the load. The percentage, and how it's calculated can vary widely from company to company. Under this system, empty miles are usually not paid at all — with the same argument that "It's included in the percentage rate".

So, we can now see some of the problems with compensation in the industry. Now, let's take a look at working conditions:

Let's start with time away from home. I was reading a truck magazine the other day, and an ad for a company proudly trumpeted "We get our drivers home almost every month!" Month? So there are entire months that a driver won't get home? Typical. Most companies get their driver home every two or three weeks, but usually only for two or three days. Most companies figure one day off for every week on the road. Not a lot of time, especially for drivers who have families, particularly those with young children. Not surprisingly, truck drivers have a divorce rate well above the national average.

Then there's the parking issue. I've written numerous posts about the terrible parking problems that truck drivers face, especially in the east and northeast parts of the country. The regulations mandate being parked for a minimum of 10 hours, and it's getting more and more difficult to comply. I generally don't take loads that go east because the parking situation has gotten so bad.

When you're parked, you effectively live in a box. A small one. While truck sleepers have gotten bigger and more comfortable over the last few years, it's still a box. A lot of jail cells are bigger, and prisoners are let out more often. To mangle a quote from Samuel Johnson: "Being in a truck is like being in jail, with a chance of dying in a crash".

After parking, then there's the issue of food. Truck stop food is expensive, and frequently not very good, not to mention generally not very healthy either. I was at a truckstop restaurant a while back, and decided I'd order the first entree on the menu that wasn't fried or deep fried. There was not one single thing that wasn't. Doesn't make for a very healthy lifestyle. Sitting in one position behind a steering wheel for up to 11 hours a day isn't very helpful either.

While we're on the subject of health, let's talk about safety. In terms of numbers of workers killed and injured, trucking is one of the most (if not the most) dangerous jobs in the country. If there were an equivalent number of burger flippers or discount store employees killed, there would be an enormous outcry demanding immediate change. That doesn't seem to be happening with trucking.

Then, there's the regulatory environment. Trucking is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the country, and it's getting worse. While such things as CSA seem to be working to get bad drivers and trucking companies off the road, they're putting too much blame on drivers, and not enough on the trucking companies responsible. Yes, legally the driver is the "captain of the ship", but usually has little or no control over equipment or operations. Frequently, all a driver can do is quit — and in these economic hard times, that may not be an option.

So what to do? The above are some of the worst driver irritants in the industry, but this list is by no means comprehensive. Addressing the above issues would be a good start, but until these (and more) issues are dealt with by an industry-wide overhaul, the myth of the "driver shortage" will persist.

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