• Powell Slaughter

Truck Driver Shortage Remains Huge Challenge

Powell SlaughterA Shortage Of Drivers Remains The  biggest problem facing the U.S. trucking industry. That was part of the message from Dave Osiecki, senior vice president and chief of national advocacy at American Trucking Assns., during this summer’s Furniture/Today and AHFA Logistics Workshop in Charlotte, N.C.

Osiecki identifi ed the major challenges for carriers: “One is drivers, two is drivers, and three is drivers,” he said. “The other two are long-term highway funding and ongoing regulatory issues in the pipeline.”

The driver shortage has been most pronounced for long-haul OTR carriers, but the problem is widening. “There are major LTL carriers who have hired driver recruiters, and they haven’t had to do that before,” Osiecki noted. The shortage “is acute in the OTR sector, but it’s spreading.”

Advocacy In D.c.

“There’s a lot of activity, but there’s not a lot of outcome” in Washington right now, said Osiecki, who spends a lot of time representing the trucking sector’s interests to Congress and regulators.

Lack of action in D.C. has the Highway Trust Fund about to go in the red this year as the nation’s road infrastructure continues to degrade. “There are 70,000 structurally deficient bridges in this country,” Osiecki noted. It hasn’t helped that 1993 was the last time the federal government raised the fuel tax, the proceeds of which help support highway construction and improvements.

Finding a dedicated, sustainable, long-term solution to the erosion of the U.S. highway infrastructure is a key element of ATA’s current legislative initiatives in Washington. “Ten states have raised the fuel tax,” Osiecki noted. “We’re wondering why representatives in Congress haven’t bitten the bullet yet.”

While perhaps a way to push money to the HTF, transferring dollars from the general fund “is simply mortgaging our future,” he added. “We and organizations like AAA and Chambers of Commerce are pushing for an increase in the fuel tax. The Highway Trust Fund is the checking account, and you have to have money in the account to get anything done.”

In addition to working on hours of service, safety compliance and hair testing as an alternative to urine-based testing for drugs, another key ATA initiative is development of a national freight policy. “A plan is being worked on today,” Osiecki said, “and it will be multimodal. We’re identifying bottlenecks in the system where trucks are slowing down.”

Tolls are another problem, according to ATA. “We don’t like tolls, because 12% to 30 % of the money collected goes toward administration. Fuel tax administration is 1%,” Osiecki said. “We’re trying to strip the federal language okaying states to collect tolls on existing interstates that already are paid for.”

Another ATA effort is working toward authorization of twin 33-foot trailers to operate nationwide. Those currently are allowed in Florida and North Dakota, as well as throughout Canada.

On the public outreach front, ATA is a founding member of Trucking Moves America Forward, an industry-wide image and internal education initiative informing policy makers, motorists and the public about the benefits of the trucking industry to help build a groundswell of political and grassroots support necessary to strengthen and grow the industry.

Launched in March 2014, TMAF looks to create a positive image for the trucking sector and to educate the public about trucking’s importance to the national economy.

Driver Shortage

ATA is pushing initiatives to help alleviate the critical shortage of truck drivers.

“We have very clear data that indicates our driver population is four to five years older than the average worker,” Osiecki said. “At the federal level, we have a regulation that you have to be 21 years old to get a heavy truck license.”

In order to help replace an aging workforce, ATA is developing a pilot program to bring 18-to 19-year-olds into the drive pool “safely and responsibly,” according to Osiecki. “We’d like to hire 100,000 transitioning veterans into the industry.” Equalizing commercial driver license and military truck driving training could create a potential pool of new, younger drivers for the industry.

Powell SlaughterPowell Slaughter | Senior Editor

I'm Powell Slaughter, senior editor at Furniture/Today. I returned to the publication in January 2015 after nine years of writing about furniture retail strategies and best practices at a monthly magazine focusing on home furnishings retail operations. Prior to that, I spent 10 years with F/T covering wood furniture, the last five of those as case goods editor. While I cover occasional, home entertainment and home office here, a major responsibility is expanding our attention to the logistics side of the industry. I hope my articles will encourage a dialogue with retailers, vendors, third-party logistics specialists and carriers. I’d love to hear your ideas, concerns and suggestions for smoother flow of material and goods.

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