Rather, wage increases are prompting many drivers to bounce back from business to business.
The average annual driver turnover rate is around 95% for full truck carriers, the segment of the industry that carries trailer-sized shipments over long distances. Truck carriers face the industry’s most serious driver shortages.
Drivers appreciate the pay rise, but they keep an eye on what’s on offer elsewhere, said Daniel Walton, 47-year-old truck driver at Roehl Transport, a Wisconsin-based trucking company with 2,300 drivers.
The opposite effect
Ironically, the wage hike itself can exacerbate the shortages it is supposed to solve. Many drivers use the larger paychecks to reduce their driving. “Drivers want to be more at home. They told us, ”said Tim Norlin, vice president of driver employment at Roehl.
Walton said he knows of drivers who use the pay raise to cut down on their time on the road. “You see guys with young kids, they used to work there,” he said. “It gives them the opportunity to be a little more at home with their children.”
A difficult life on the road
Walton is on the road about four out of five weeks, but after a 22-year career in the merchant navy before becoming a truck driver, he said his family used to be away for long periods of time.
And while Walton says he enjoys life on the road, he admits it’s not for everyone. He helps train new drivers in Roehl, and he quit shortly after arriving due to stress or homesickness.
“In a truck you are alone and it takes a lot of courage,” he said.
The greatest shortage of truckers is in the segment of truck carriers, which carry trailer-sized cargo shipments over long distances. Drivers who work for these companies are often on the road for weeks at a time, taking load after load, driving maximum hours allowed, and sleeping in their trucks when on leave.
So companies like FedEx, UPS, Amazon, and Walmart that can offer more regular routes and time at home have an advantage beyond pay when competing for these drivers.
Increase wages to stay competitive
Trucking companies are raising wages to keep drivers on their payroll. This week, Roehl implemented his second pay hike this year, which together is expected to increase the compensation for the company’s drivers from about $ 4,000 to $ 6,000 per year, or about 9% to 11 %.
“We have to offer that extra pay to be competitive,” Norlin said.
Another truck company, CR England, announced in April its third pay hike in the past three years, raising its drivers’ pay by more than 50% from 2018.
Trucking companies charge customers higher rates and take on more work when drivers are available.
“Our customers understand very well the need to increase rates,” said Norlin. “I could literally hire between 500 and 1,000 more drivers – we have the commercial offers from customers to keep them busy.”
Walton said he saw his salary go from around $ 40,000 a year a few years ago to probably $ 70,000 this year.
Drug testing and teenage drivers
One factor that has reduced the supply of drivers is a new federal clearinghouse that alerts carriers of drivers who have failed drug tests, DUIs, or other addiction issues on their records. Some 54,000 drivers have been prevented from driving since the clearinghouse took effect in early 2020.
“We are in favor of the clearinghouse. We don’t want these people to be on the road,” said Bob Costello, chief economist for the American Trucking Associations.
What his group really wants, however, is a rollback of federal law prohibiting anyone under the age of 21 from driving heavy trucks.
“Why are 18, 19 and 20 year olds able to drive tanks and planes in the military and they can’t drive trucks?” he said. The industry fears that high school graduates may not be able to consider a three-year career as a driver, prompting them to seek other jobs and choking the pipeline of potential drivers.
“If we tackled them earlier, maybe we could attract more pilots for the job,” he said.
But even this change would not be enough to stem the deficit. “There’s not just one reason for the pilot shortage, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution,” Costello said.