Why the Truck Driver Shortage Could Mean Bad News For Your Family

February 8th, 2016 by Attorney Julie Butcher

With all the large trucks seen on the highways these days, you might be surprised to learn that the trucking industry is actually suffering from a shortage of drivers. And this shortage could lead to a situation that increases the chances of you or your family member suffering from injuries received in a crash with one of these rolling behemoths.

In the U.S., there are about 3.5 million truck drivers, with around 1.8 million of them working as long-haul or tractor-trailer drivers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And yet, the American Trucking Associations estimates the industry is short 25,000 drivers, although some other sources believe that figure is on the low side. In October 2015, the Huffington Post quoted a report by the Wall Street Journal which indicated a need for 48,000 truckers; and NPR pegged the number at 100,000.

So far, the driver shortage isn’t having a major impact on shipping; but it is putting a damper on the growth of trucking companies. Many are trying to attract more drivers by boosting driver pay. The average pay for long-haul truckers, according to the WSJ, rose to $57,000 in 2015, a 17% jump over 2013.

But even that measure hasn’t sufficiently increased the supply of qualified candidates, so the industry is looking for other ways to get more drivers behind the wheel. One controversial proposal, currently before Congress, would change the age at which drivers are allowed to drive interstate truck routes. Presently the minimum age to drive a commercial vehicle across state lines is 21; if the measure passes, an 18-year-old will be able to obtain a CDL and drive an 80,000-pound vehicle on the interstate right next to your 3,000-pound Toyota.

Some people feel that the suggested age reduction is a huge mistake. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says, “Studies conducted in Australia, New Zealand and the United States indicate that truck drivers younger than 21 and in their 20s have a higher rate of involvement in both fatal and nonfatal crashes than older drivers.” Statistics show that young drivers are more likely to speed, to overestimate their skill, and to engage in risky behaviors that increases the likelihood they will cause an accident. And if an accident does occur, they don’t know what to do. Would you feel comfortable having your recent high-school graduate behind the wheel of a semi on I-75 . . . even in good weather? Even when they’re not trying to beat a deadline?

The need for more truck drivers may also mean that new hires are sent out on runs with relatively little schooling and experience. More experienced truckers are often lured to big companies which can afford higher pay scales and signing bonuses. That leaves smaller companies with the less desirable choice of hiring those right out of training. Additionally, because of the growing demand for truck drivers, some training programs may do a less than adequate job of preparing new drivers. Sometimes trucking companies decide to take a chance on hiring someone with a bad record, or keeping one on even when they shouldn’t.

Last June a truck driver working for a company out of London, Kentucky, caused a crash on I-75 in Chattanooga, killing six and injuring several others. The day before the crash, the driver had been cited for careless driving in Florida after side-swiping another truck. Truck drivers are supposed to submit a post-accident drug test if they are cited after a wreck, but this man did not do so and his company allowed him to keep on driving. On the day of the catastrophic Chattanooga accident, the driver was using meth. The driver and the company and its owners have been named in several lawsuits, but even substantial monetary compensation can’t fully compensate the victims and their families.

Long-haul truck driving is a difficult, demanding, stressful job. It’s understandable that the turnover rate is high — 90 to 95 percent per year, according to the American Trucking Associations. Nevertheless, you and your family have the right to use the roadways without being endangered by inexperienced, poorly trained, or impaired truck drivers. The Julie Butcher Law Office has extensive experience handling the claims of Kentuckians injured in commercial motor vehicle accidents. Call us at 859-233-3641 or fill out our contact form so we can talk about the circumstances of your case and how we might help your family obtain justice.