How to Fix the Truck Driver Shortage with Technology

How Technology Can Alleviate the Truck Driver Shortage

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US truckers move 72% of freight, but we are short 80,000 drivers

Truckers and the loads they carry are among the most vital essential workers globally. In the U.S. alone, industries rely on truckers to deliver more than 70% of the country’s freight. The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic helped reinforce the importance of these freight truckers, but even that hasn’t helped revitalize the industry and bring in new blood.

A growing truck driver shortage will ripple through supply chains, making it increasingly difficult to plan and move goods quickly and efficiently. It could mean longer delivery times, product shortages, and inadvertent overstocking because goods can’t be moved. New technology could help bridge the gap and alleviate the driver shortage.

Struggle Within the Trucking Industry

For the last few years, the trucking industry has been in dire straits when it comes to bringing in new drivers. In 2019, experts reported that Canada lacked some 25,000 drivers. The New York Times reported that the US was short 80,000 drivers in 2021. The United States needs to add more than 60,000 new drivers to keep up with demand.

US truckers move 72% of freight, but we are running dangerously short of drivers, 80,000 short to be exact. | How Technology Can Alleviate the Truck Driver Shortage #transportation #trucking #logistics Click To Tweet

There is no definitive reason for the shortage, but there are plenty of smaller factors that, when taken together, could help explain why it’s so hard to bring in new drivers and keep them on the road.

High Turnover

The trucking industry has some of the highest turnover rates in the world. The average turnover rate for large carriers in 2020 was up to 90%, one point lower than it was the previous year.

Low Wages

Truck driving jobs were often advertised as a great way to make a living, but that isn’t always the case anymore. As with many other industries, wages have not increased enough to keep up with the cost of living changes, so drivers are carrying out the same tasks for relatively less pay.

Missing Pay

Most drivers get paid by the mile, which means they often don’t get paid for everything they do on the job. There’s no extra pay for delays caused by traffic jams or poor weather. It can also lead to drivers pushing themselves too hard, creating the additional risk of fatigued driving.

Heavy Regulations

The trucking industry is one of the most heavily regulated in the world. Strict rules control when drivers can be on or off the road, and there are many other regulations that must be adhered to as well.

Uncertainty

When new technology is introduced, there’s always the risk of changing how people live and work. In this case, truck drivers are often uncertain about their future for fear of being replaced by fully autonomous vehicles.

Work/Life Balance

New drivers, especially Millennials and members of Gen Z, are hesitant to take a job that makes it challenging to maintain a healthy work/life balance. Truckers are often away from home for weeks at a time.

Whatever the reasons for these struggles, something needs to change. The best option would be to bring in new skilled drivers, but if that isn’t possible, perhaps new fleet technologies can change the way the world looks at trucking and the logistics industry as a whole.

Adopting Mobile Technology

Mobile technology has come a long way in the last two decades, growing from bulky mobile phones that only worked if they were plugged into the vehicle, into a comprehensive network of tools that can complete a variety of tasks.

Mobile technology can aid drivers with navigation, weather monitoring, tracking lot inventory, and more in the trucking industry. It is also a valuable tool for helping drivers stay on top of the ever-changing regulations that govern their daily operations.

Telematics can take the tedium out of trucking… | How Technology Can Alleviate the Truck Driver Shortage #transportation #trucking #logistics Click To Tweet

Telematics, the live data streaming of vehicle and location information, can relieve drivers of some of the tedium of driving, while reducing errors. With automatic, real-time tracking of shipments, drivers do not need to call in or receive calls asking for locations and estimated time of arrival. Artificial intelligence can take location data, destination, speed, and combine it with traffic and weather data, to accurately predict the ETA at a distribution center, warehouse or customer.

Dock door scheduling solutions and Transportation Management Systems (TMS) in general, can also connect the dots, between truck arrival times, dock door schedules, equipment and labor, to update dock door appointments and make sure all resources are available on arrival. This means trucks are loaded and unloaded faster and more efficiently, minimizing driver dwell time. Drivers are more productive and do more driving and less waiting around.

It isn’t the perfect solution to alleviating the driver shortage. Still, it can help existing drivers work more efficiently and make it easier for companies to attract and retain drivers for more extended periods.

Creating Fully Autonomous Trucks

Self-driving cars are starting to become more science fact than science fiction. This technology isn’t limited to passenger cars anymore. Tesla announced its Semi – a fully autonomous self-driving freight truck – in 2017. In a 2021 update, Elon Musk announced that these trucks would be the first Tesla vehicles to have Level 4 automation, meaning that in almost all circumstances, the car would be able to pilot itself without the need for human intervention.

Self-driving trucks could help take some of the stress off current drivers and make it easier for companies to meet their delivery deadlines without pushing their drivers too hard. Companies like Amazon and the USPS are exploring self-driving cars and other technologies that can help ensure timely deliveries. The companies most deeply in the logistics industry are the ones to watch when it comes to finding the most cutting-edge technology for improving trucking.

Congress Updating the DRIVE-Safe Act

In February 2019, Congress introduced the DRIVE-Safe Act for the trucking industry. Prior to this, drivers needed to be 21 to operate a commercial vehicle and cross state lines, despite qualifying for a commercial driver’s license (CDL) at 18.

The Act would allow commercially licensed drivers under 21 to operate across state lines after completing a 400-hour comprehensive apprenticeship program. Additionally, drivers who participate in the apprenticeship would only be allowed to cross state lines with an experienced driver in the cab. Their trucks also need to be outfitted with the most advanced safety technology.

This can help keep drivers on the road by preventing accidents and ensuring only the most skilled drivers navigate the country’s highways. Studies have shown that drivers under the age of 21, and those more inexperienced, tend to crash more often.

This could also help entice more young drivers into the industry by making it easier for them to potentially obtain more lucrative cross-country contracts that they’d otherwise have to wait years to qualify for.

Looking Toward Trucking’s Future

The trucking industry is vital, hauling massive amounts of freight from one end of the country to the other every day. Without skilled drivers behind the wheel, the industry could grind to a halt, leaving consumers unable to get the necessities they need to survive and thrive.

While companies will need to re-evaluate their compensation and benefits for drivers, new technologies can help bridge the gap between the existing drivers and the number of new drivers that companies need to continue meeting their delivery deadlines. Technology can make the job easier, more satisfying and safer. There may come a time when self-driving trucks replace human drivers entirely, but it won’t be for many years, if ever, and in the meantime, we need all the skilled drivers we can get.

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