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ATA Study Says Trucking Industry Has Shortage of Drivers

ALEXANDRIA, Va.--May 2, 20055, 2005--The long-haul, heavy-duty truck transportation industry in the United States is experiencing a national shortage of 20,000 truck drivers, the American Trucking Associations reported today in its newly released U.S. Truck Driver Shortage: Analysis and Forecasts.

The Forecast, a report on the present and future of the long-haul truck driver pool, predicts the shortage of long-haul truck drivers will increase to 111,000 by 2014 if current demographic trends stay their course and if the overall labor force continues to grow at a slower pace.

"The driver market is the tightest it has been in 20 years," ATA President and CEO Bill Graves said. "It's a major limitation to the amount of freight that motor carriers can haul. It's critical that we find ways to tap a new labor pool, increase wages and recruit new people into the industry that keeps our national economy moving."

Of the 3.4 million truck drivers on the road, 1.3 million are long-haul truckers, the driver segment most severely impacted by the shortage. Although the current driver shortage is set at 20,000 drivers, it seems larger to the industry because of a high degree of driver "churning," or moving from carrier to carrier. Large truckload carriers reported an average annual turnover of 121% last year.

If current demographic trends continue, the supply of new long-haul heavy truck drivers will grow at an annual rate of just 1.6% in the next decade. But Global Insight, the economic consulting firm conducting the study for ATA, predicts over the next 10 years, economic growth will generate a need for a 2.2% average annual increase in long-haul heavy truck drivers, or 320,000 jobs overall.

Another 219,000 must be found to replace drivers 55 and older who will retire in the next decade, putting total expansion and replacement hiring needs at 539,000 or an average of 54,000 new drivers per year for the next decade.

Scores of drivers exited the long-haul trucking industry after average weekly earnings fell 9% below average construction earnings in the 2000 recession. Driver wages have since failed to regain pre-2000 levels when they averaged 6% to 7% higher than construction wages. Long-haul drivers also cited extended periods away from home and unpredictable schedules as reasons for transitioning to other occupations.

At the same time, the industry also is challenged with finding qualified drivers. Many trucking companies reject a high percentage of driver applicants because they lack qualifications. Those challenges escalated in recent years as the industry tightened its security and safety measures.

The driver shortage comes as the trucking industry is hauling more freight than ever. Total annual tonnage hauled by truck is expected to increase to 13 billion tons by 2016 from 9.8 billion tons in 2004.

"It's a favorable supply-demand market for us," Graves said. "But the ability to add truck capacity is based on the market's ability to find drivers. A tight driver market will keep capacity tight."

ATA said finding drivers will grow more difficult in coming years as adverse demographic trends limit the size of the pool of workers that traditionally fill truck driving jobs. For example, one-fifth of all heavy-duty truck drivers are aged 55 or older. Replacements must be found for nearly all of these because only a small fraction of heavy-duty truck drivers work past age 65. The ability to replace these drivers will be further constrained by insufficient growth of new entrants into the labor force, which is expected to decelerate after 2007 from a 1.4% annual pace to only 0.5% growth in 2014. More importantly, the number of men aged 35 to 54, which make up the primary driver demographic, will be flat or declining over the next 10 years.

To increase the nation's driver pool, the industry increasingly will need to draw upon a larger percentage of women and minorities. Women currently represent 5% of truck drivers. African Americans represent 11.7% of long-haul drivers and Hispanics total 9.7% of the long-haul driving sector.

If the trucking industry is to attract a higher share of drivers to match its growth projections for the next 10 years, it will be necessary for earnings to, at a minimum, return to the wage position that prevailed in the 1990s. At present, weekly earnings in long-distance trucking are 1.5% below the average in construction. The industry also will have to address the quality of life issues, including driver home time and schedule flexibility.

ATA, the national trade association for the trucking industry, is a federation of affiliated state trucking associations, conferences and organizations that includes more than 37,000 motor carrier members representing every type and class of motor carrier in the country before Congress, the courts and regulatory agencies.

Editor's note: ATA's U.S. Truck Driver Shortage: Analysis and Forecasts is available to reporters at