U.S. Trucking Industry Adapts to Change

DES MOINES, Iowa – A dearth of truck drivers, mandated technology that restricts drivers time flexibility and emerging technologies such as autonomous trucks are some of the key challenges impacting the trucking industry, an insider told a conference here.

The truck driver shortage is a serious problem in the United States, Dylan Royal, regional sales director for Cleveland, Ohio-based United World Logistics, said at ACIs U.S. Base Oils and Lubricants Summit held here on Aug 22.

Photo: WendellandCarolyn/iStock

The U.S. trucking industry faces a number of challenges including a shortage of truck drivers, the need to recruit younger drivers to succeed an aging truck driver workforce and adapting to new and emerging technologies.

Royal said about 45 percent of truck drivers in the U.S. are between ages 45 and 54, and 20 percent are between 55 and 64 years old. Only about 5 percent are between 20 and 24. One of the main problems were facing is that your average age of truckers is about 54 – we are not getting enough new entrants, a younger generation, into the market, he explained.

One U.S. House bill under consideration – the HR5358 Drive Safe Act – aims to lower the driving age for truckers to 18 while mandating training requirements for the younger drivers. Currently whats happening is truckers ages 18, 19 or 20 cannot drive across state lines until theyre 21, Royal said. When youre 18, out of high school, youre either going to college or going into a trade. For trucking, you cant really go into that trade until youre 21. So theyre finding another trade, and have to go back to ground zero to learn this trade.

The bill would require 400 hours of apprenticeship, which means that an experienced driver would ride in the cab with the young driver over that period of time. As well, it is mandated they have to be in the most state-of-the-art trucks in the industry – that means cameras all around, sensors all around and max speed of 65 miles per hour, he added.

Attracting new drivers into the industry – not just hiring drivers that worked from another trucking company – is a priority of the logistics industry, according to Royal. We are now paying for the training for somebody outside the industry to become a truck driver as long as they stay with us for at least two years, he explained.

Another factor contributing to the trucking shortage is the need for drivers to transition to electronic logging devices after the U.S. Congress enacted the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century bill in 2012, Royal told attendees. ELDs are used to track a drivers duty status, replacing the paper logbook some driers had used to record compliance with hours of service requirements. Fleets were required to implement certified ELDs by December 2017.

While the goal of ELD was positive – to make U.S. roads safer – it also upset many truck drivers because they believed the switch from paper logging to electronic devices took away their ability to have flexible schedules, Royal said. Its also making drivers leave the industry because theres no more flexibility for them, and many of them like truck driving because it offers them that freedom. Now its Big Brother watching everything they do.

To help truck drivers, Royal said companies can prioritize having efficient warehouses where a truck driver can get in, pick up the cargo and get out very quickly. Another feature drivers can appreciate is having a comfortable place to rest while waiting for their truck to be loaded.

One United World Logistics customer – a lubricant manufacturer – renovated unused rooms in some of its warehouses to serve as comfortable lounges where truck drivers can rest while their semi-trailers are loaded, Royal noted. He said drivers are now jumping at the chance to do jobs for that company because they know when [their trucks are] going to be loaded, theyre also going to be taken care of.

Trucking freight companies are also opening up new divisions, such as a bulk liquids division that can handle products such as base oil and bulk lubricants. We are paying for the certifications for those drivers, to give them a specialized career as well, he said. Trucking companies are also offering opportunities to military veterans, offering to pay for training and providing them jobs as truck drivers, he noted.

Autonomous trucking is a key buzzword in the logistics industry. Its unclear when widespread commercial use of self-driving trucks will occur.

Some say this will come in and affect the industry in five years. Some say that its more [like] 20 to 30 years, Royal said. Ill tell you right now, the technology is out there. It needs to be fine-tuned some, but there are autonomous trucks – driverless trucks driving from the East Coast to the West Coast right now. All of it is in a test phase.

Some key factors that need to be worked out before autonomous tractor trailer trucks become widespread include liability laws and overcoming the general fear some have of the concept.

The fear element is really holding us back, but also the liability laws, he noted. Thats a big thing out there that needs to change. If a motorist collides with a semi-trailer truck today, the motorist may be able to hold the truck driver and his or her company accountable, along with the forwarder who booked the trucks cargo. Liability may be different with autonomous vehicles, he said.

Youre not able to actually sue the manufacturer of that vehicle as liability laws have it, he explained. If you get into a wreck with an autonomous vehicle right now, theres nobody at fault if the accident occurred because of a problem in the self-driving vehicles system.