A record-high shortage of truck drivers is adding to the strained supply chain already fatiguing the nation.
Chris Spear, president and CEO of the American Trucking Association, told CNN the industry needs approximately 80,000 drivers — a 30% increase from before the pandemic.
In 2020, the industry was already understaffed and needed about 61,500 drivers.
Truckers are retiring or simply leaving the industry, making it difficult to replenish the pool of qualified drivers.
Earlier this year, lawmakers proposed changing the federal age requirements to allow trucking companies to more easily recruit and train younger drivers. The legislation was considered a possible solution to the challenges facing the already short-staffed but essential industry.
Currently, drivers need to be 21 years old to drive commercial trucks across state lines. The Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy (DRIVE) Act would allow qualifying 18- to 20 year-olds to make interstate drives after completing a 400-hour training program.
Spear said he supports this initiative: “I think that clearly is the most impactful thing that could be done right now to alleviate this problem. So next year, [we] are not going to be having this conversation because it will alleviate itself because we’re investing.”
The current staffing shortage coincides with the backlog of cargo ships at the nation’s ports. While President Joe Biden has directed the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to move to 24/7 operations, the ports are limited by the truck driving shortages. Importers rely on drivers to move their cargo once it is unloaded.
Spears called the change an improvement, but noted “it doesn’t matter if it’s a port in LA or Long Beach, or the last mile of delivery from a train to a warehouse in Wichita. You’re going to have to have a driver and a truck [to] move that freight.”
The American Trucking Associations estimates that 71% of the U.S. economy’s goods are transported by trucks. Trucks, however, are just 4% of the vehicles on the road. The latest modeling indicates that, if nothing changes, the shortage will increase to 160,000 drivers by 2030.
The organization predicts there will be a need for 1 million new drivers over the next ten years.