There is a secret danger lurking beneath the surface of the trucking industry that puts drivers at greater risk of suffering an accident.
There is currently a severe shortage of truck drivers in the United States. The American Trucking Association (ATA) reported a shortage of over 60,000 drivers in 2018 and estimates that the industry will need to hire roughly 1.1 million new drivers to keep up with the demand created by online shopping and a growing economy.
The trucker shortage affects every driver in the U.S. because the vast percentage of consumer goods in the country are carried in trucks. In fact, the ATA estimates that 70% of all freight transported in America rides on trucks. While the issues of a truck driver shortage can negatively affect the economy, it’s already causing dangerous consequences on road safety.
The Houston truck accident attorneys of Lapeze & Johns have extensive experience handling auto accidents and have gathered some information to help you understand the current problem and how it may affect you.
What’s Causing the Shortage?
There is quite the perfect storm of factors creating the truck-driver shortage. Low pay, difficult working conditions, an aging workforce, and a male-dominated industry all contribute to the problem.
In 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the average income for long haul truckers was $43,680 per year. This was nearly $20,000 less than the median household income for the same year.
Low pay can make it difficult to recruit and keep quality hirees, while bad working conditions only add to the problem.
Traveling across the country can take truckers away from family and home for days at a time, which is one of the biggest deterrents for joining the industry. Additionally, truck drivers are often paid by the mile, meaning there is a huge incentive to drive for long periods of time in order to cover more ground. While the government does mandate rest periods for drivers – and has, in recent years, created digital record-keeping systems to improve the situation – there are still many companies who attempt to falsify data to keep their drivers on the road for longer periods of time than is allowed.
Another factor causing the shortage is a lack of opportunity for potential female hires. The ATA reported that men make up 94% of all truck drivers; men are doing most of the driving, training, and hiring. The trucking industry is notorious for being unwelcoming to women and without a larger pool of candidates, is likely to continue having issues with its workforce numbers.
Perhaps the biggest cause of the driver shortage is an aging workforce. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the average truck driver is 55 years old. This is nearly 10 years older than the average age of workers in comparable industries. Experienced drivers are retiring and there is no one to replace them.
The fewer new drivers hired, the worse working conditions will be for drivers on the road and the harder and less attractive the job gets for young people looking for careers.
These conditions cause a snowball effect making the problem worse and worse.
How Does the Trucker Shortage Put Drivers in Danger?
A shortage of drivers has pushed carriers to lower their standards for potential hires. The better the economy gets, the more work carriers will have to take on, the lower their standards for drivers will get, and the more accidents will happen. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, drivers with less than 5 years of experience are 41% more likely to cause a crash than more seasoned drivers.
As sales continue to shift to online vendors, and 24-hour shipping becomes more popular, the demand for trucks will only increase, placing carriers under increased pressure to get drivers hired and trained as quickly as possible in part to save money, but also to make up for the ever-increasing shortage. Hasty training means under-experienced drivers will also be underprepared.
The snowball effect caused by the shortage is really very insidious.
The fewer drivers there are on the road, the more demanding their schedules will be and the further they will need to travel. The pressure to reach your destination quickly in per-mile pay structure is immense, and drivers in a hurry are more likely to fail in taking precautionary measures to protect other drivers on the road.
Demanding schedules also make drivers more prone to accidents as they cut back on sleep. The CDC reports that commercial truck drivers are much more likely to practice “drowsy driving”, slowing their reaction time and increasing the risk that they may nod off while behind the wheel.
Fewer drivers also mean fewer trucks on the road. Truckers will have to take on heavier loads to make up for the lack of drivers, but heavier trucks are harder to maneuver and are more likely to have tire blowouts and brake failures.
In 2017, 4,102 people died in truck accidents, and of that number, only 17% were truck drivers themselves. This means that those at greatest risk in trucking accidents are drivers of traditional passenger vehicles.
How Can You Protect Yourself?
The main thing you can do to decrease the chances you will be involved in a truck accident is to make good driving decisions yourself. Stay alert and aware of your surroundings, especially on the highway. Be sure to give commercial vehicles a wide berth. Trucks are heavy and need extra space and time to stop or slow down. Be cautious while passing 18-wheelers and always use defensive driving.
Inexperienced drivers are becoming more and more common, and they are even more likely to have problems driving around cars maneuvering aggressively.