There has been so much written about the over- the- road truck driver shortage that everyone in the industry is, or should be aware of the issue, its reasons, and consequences. The American Trucking Associations (ATA) has predicted that by 2024, the shortage will be 175,000 drivers, about four times the current shortfall. This does not take into account the impact of future regulations. The industry continues to have difficulty recruiting younger drivers to replace those who are moving to other fleets or are simply getting out of the business through retirement and career shifts. For those who are working, driving is just not as attractive as it used to be. Low pay, unpleasant working conditions and creeping government regulation, are quietly take their toll.
It appears that the hours of service rule changes have for the most part, been absorbed by the industry; and hopefully, they will not change again. Notwithstanding this, the government continues to chip away at what it believes are potential carrier and driver safety issues; and the results are not exactly user friendly. For example, hours of service regulations are going to be enforced through the use of electronic logging devices (ELD). These have been mandated to be in place by the end of this year and will eliminate the opportunity for fudging on the paper logs. Pilot programs have indicated that more accurate reporting actually has resulted in productivity losses of 3 to 4%. However, a recent study by Transplace revealed that 81% of large fleets are already in compliance, and virtually all are working toward Compliance. A number of smaller fleets have been unwilling or unable to move ahead with installation, and some are still hoping for governmental intervention.
The Owner-Operators Independent Driver Association (OOIDA) continues its uphill legal battle against ELD’s; and on April 12, appealed an unfavorable lower court decision to the Supreme Court, citing violation of the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee of “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” The chances of the higher court blocking ELD’s at this point is probably slim to none, however.
Last week, there was a Supreme Court decision that left in place a Crete Carrier policy that allows the carrier to test selected drivers for sleep apnea. Crete requires all applicants with a body mass of 35 or greater to be screened. A Crete driver was fired because of his refusal to take the test, and filed suit, pursuing it all the way to the Supreme Court. The testing may not be a bad idea, but drivers will see it as just another aggravation.
Other regulations are pending. CSA rules, speed governors, and new driver training requirements are all in some stage of planning or discussion; and if autonomous trucks continue to show promise, we will no doubt be faced with changing traffic and driver regulations and qualifications. There may be a point in the future when drivers are not required at all, but for the foreseeable future, they will be an absolute necessity. The ATA recently compared the highway situation to modern aircraft. Today’s planes can take off, fly, and land themselves; but no one has given serious consideration to eliminating the pilots.
I am very much in favor of government efforts to improve highway safety, but sometimes it appears we are simply adding more inhibitors to already unattractive careers. Supposedly, President Trump is opposed to regulation. In the motor carrier industry however, it is a necessity, and hopefully, the new DOT can find a level that protects all of us, but does not over penalize drivers, carriers, or shippers.