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A shortage of safe, qualified semi truck drivers is still affecting the trucking industry. CNN published a recent online article that claims there is currently a 20,000-30,000 worker shortage in the trucking industry, which is only forecast to get worse.

There are a couple factors contributing to this shortage:

(1) A 98% turnover rate for long-haul truckers due to competition from other industries; and

(2) Changes to rules set to take effect on July 1, which reduces the maximum weekly driving limit from 82 hours per week to 70 hours per week. This change alone is estimated to create a need for up to 100,000 more commercial truck drivers.

Regular Legal Examiner contributor “Truckie D” wrote an interesting blog post titled “The Driver Shortage Myth,” in which he says: “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.” However, he continues, “There’s a shortage of drivers willing to drive trucks for current pay levels and work conditions.” He cites a number of detriments to a career as a truck driver including mileage-based pay, time away from home, difficult parking (rest) conditions and a generally unhealthy lifestyle.

Truckie D has a point. Working as a truck driver can be a difficult way to make a living. I am thankful that the vast majority of truck drivers are professionals that do their job safely and efficiently. Unfortunately, the current and forecast shortage puts a strain on even the best drivers as shippers and employers push them to cover more miles in the name of “increased productivity.”

The trucking system is stacked against truck drivers because the corporations make millions off of the drivers' hard work and shifts all of the burdens and risks onto the driver. Drivers are frequently paid by the mile, not by the hour. Thus, when there is highway congestion, road construction, bad weather, or other delay, it is the driver that is penalized. The driver must work longer hours for the same pay and may be pressured to "make up time." These industry pressures too often lead to lapses in judgment and cutting corners on safety.

This pressure from trucking company employers can also lead to fatigue, sleep disorders, and other conditions that can lead to devastating consequences. Long hours trapped in a semi truck and unhealthy habits of the road lead many truck drivers to suffer from sleep apnea. Studies estimate that nearly 1/3 of semi truck drivers suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, which raises serious safety concerns.

Besides pressuring drivers, some trucking companies have also demonstrated a propensity to cut corners on the hiring and training processes. If we multiply that by 100,000+ new drivers, it doesn’t take too many “bad apples” to create serious problems on the road.

It seems impossible for trucking companies fill all of these open positions without significant improvements in pay and working conditions. I am hopeful that drivers are the beneficiaries with this shortage. Trucking companies need to do everything possible to ensure they attract skilled, qualified candidates; perform proper checks of the drivers' backgrounds and competency; and provide all of the safety training necessary to keep them and others on the road safe. Trucking companies also must make sure they aren't pushing their drivers to unsafe limits and must provide safe rest times and ensure their drivers are awake and alert when hauling 80,000+ pounds of freight down the highway.

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© Copyright 2013 Brett A. Emison @BrettEmison on Twitter.

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