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Trucking Industry's Continued Driver Shortage Could Impact Public Safety

By: Allan M. Siegel

Over the years, we have discussed many issues related to the trucking industry, including those involving preventable truck accidents, trucking regulations, and the long-standing efforts of the trucking industry to pass or roll back laws that benefit their corporate interests at the expense of public safety. Among those issues is a chronic shortage of available commercial truck drivers, which we first blogged about in 2015. That’s still a major problem for trucking operators nationwide, and it’s become worse.

In a recent report released by the American Trucking Associations, the industry states that the struggle with a lack of drivers dates back nearly 15 years. While it was able to briefly meet a lower demand for cargo transportation during the Great Recession, consumer buying power and freight volumes have steadily increased. Today, over 70% of consumer products in the U.S. are moved by truck – and there aren’t enough drivers available to transport those products. As the report notes:

  • In order to meet rising demand, the trucking industry would need to hire close to 900,000 more truck drivers.
  • As of 2018, there is just one commercial truck available for every 12 loads of cargo that need to be shipped – the lowest ratio since 2005.
  • In addition to a shortage in the total number of truck drivers, which can fluctuate, there is a lack of qualified drivers, which worsens the impact on carriers.
  • The shortage results from a number of factors, including an aging fleet of truckers (with an average age of 55) who are beginning to retire, a dependence on male drivers (only 6% of commercial truckers are female), and an inability to attract new, younger drivers (often due to the less-than-ideal lifestyle and health impact of trucking).

While the truck driver shortage may certainly have an impact on corporations, trucking operators, and the consumer market, the true dangers lie in how trucking companies will conduct themselves as they struggle to meet increasing demand for cargo transporting. If the industry’s track record is any indication of how it will deal with the problem, there could very well be significant risks to public safety. These risks include:

  • Rollback of critical safety regulations – The trucking industry has long backed initiatives that make it easier for them to transport more cargo and make more profits. Often, these efforts are driven by aggressive lobbying, which at times succeed in getting politicians to roll back existing regulations. This is especially true in the current Presidential administration, which favors lax regulatory oversight and increased corporate profits over people. For example, the trucking industry was recently successful in blocking safety rules against driver fatigue that required truckers to take two mandatory rest breaks between the hours of 1:00 and 5:00 am. The trucking industry is continually pushing to change the laws, and with the shortage of drivers, may dedicate additional support for measures to lower the age limit of interstate truckers from 21 to 18, increase the maximum weight limit of commercial vehicles, and do away with electronic logging devices that record how much time truckers spend behind the wheel.
  • Blocking development of new laws – Trucking companies often view new regulations as a threat to their bottom line, and which make financial strains created by a truck driver shortage even worse. As such, they often work to block the development and implementation of new laws and safety advancements designed to protect people and prevent devastating accidents. Just last year, the industry successfully lobbied lawmakers to block the development of regulations over commercial drivers with obstructive sleep apnea, and are continuing to fight against efforts to make side underride guards mandatory on all commercial trucks in the U.S. It is expected that they will continue to fight progress in trucking safety, especially amid a driver shortage.
  • Shortcuts for driver training and certification – Trucking operators must comply with a great deal of regulations when hiring, training, and retaining truck drivers. Amid a shortage, they may be more likely to take shortcuts in order to get anyone behind the wheel – even if they’re unfit or unqualified to operate commercial vehicles. That was the case for many trucking companies and truck drivers that sought out fraudulent health clearances from physicians specially licensed to conduct CDL health examinations. One physician known as “Dr. Tony,” who was recently arrested in connection to providing false CDL medical clearances, cleared over 6,500 truckers throughout the country in a three-year period, many of whom had health issues or conditions that would prevent them from being able to operate a commercial vehicle.
  • Regulation violations – Trucking accident investigations reveal that key safety violations cause or contribute to a number of preventable accidents. As trucking companies already commit violations, a worsening driver shortage could mean they’ll be more inclined to take shortcuts, cut costs, and maximize profits by sidestepping the law. Operators that want to keep up with demand or increase profits may commit violations involving vehicle weight limits, cargo loading and securement, vehicle maintenance, and more.

The shortage in commercial truck drivers is a problem that affects all Americans, not simply as consumers of goods and products, but as vulnerable potential victims who share public roads with large machines capable of causing serious accidents, injuries, and deaths. As the industry works to find solutions – some of which include development of driverless trucks – those solutions should focus on sensible policies and practices rather than blocking development of improved regulations or lobbying for more lenient laws that compromise public safety.

Although corporate interests always pose a threat to public safety, there are still many laws in place to keep Americans safe, as well as laws that provide victims of preventable accidents with the right to seek justice and financial compensation for their damages. At Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C., our Washington, DC truck accident attorneys are committed to protecting those rights, and to helping victims of tractor-trailer and commercial vehicle accidents across DC, Maryland, and Virginia during the personal injury claim process. If you wish to discuss a recent truck accident case, contact us for a free consultation.