For those of us who don’t travel much on interstates, it can be easy to forget just how much the American economy relies on the trucking industry. 70% of all consumer goods in the United States are shipped by truck, yet the trucking industry is in grave peril. It’s not just the looming autonomous vehicle revolution that threatens the trucking industry, however. According to a report issued this month by the American Trucking Associations, the industry is almost one million drivers short. Is this a sign that the once mighty trucking industry is on its last legs?
In the ATA’s special report titled “Truck Driver Shortage Analysis,” the authors claim over 900,000 additional drivers are needed to meet the demands of the market. According to the report, an aging American population is largely behind the shortage:
There are many reasons for the current driver shortage, but one of the largest factors is the relatively high average age of the existing workforce. According to surveys by ATA, the average driver age in the for-hire over-the-road truckload industry is 49. While the driver shortage is not as acute in [other] sectors as it is in the over-the-road truckload sector, the high average age still affects the overall shortage.
It’s not just age that’s affecting the industry, though. The report also states that recruitment has become difficult. Only around 6% of the entire truck driver population are women, while only about 4 in 10 drivers are minorities. Changing regulations have also meant that many existing drivers are now under-qualified for many positions.
While the report stresses the need to recruit and retain new drivers, I can’t help but wondering if perhaps its suggestions are misguided. Trucking will be one of the first transportation industries to undergo a widespread revolution as autonomous vehicles hit the market. Trucking is the perfect industry for self-driving vehicles; autonomous trucks never have to stop for drivers to rest or shower, and convoys of self-driving trucks will be able to convoy in tight formations to reduce drag and save fuel. Is this latest report a sign that the trucking industry needs to wake up and embrace the self-driving future?