Rising pay for truckers is reshaping the industry

Here's how much truck drivers are getting paid
Here's how much truck drivers are getting paid

The shortage of truck drivers in the U.S. is driving salaries higher, with gains up to 12 percent over the past year.

Average pay for long-haul truckers jumped 17 percent since the end of 2013 to a record average of $57,000 in 2015, according to the National Transportation Institute. The surge comes as U.S. employment costs overall are up just 2 percent and average weekly earnings are rising only 2.2 percent.

The shortage of truck drivers has grown to nearly 48,000 and could expand further due to a combination of industry growth and a retiring workforce, according to the American Trucking Associations' Truck Driver Shortage Analysis for 2015.

A booming economy and a strong dollar have caused increased demand for imported goods that must be transported via the $700 billion trucking industry. Trucking represents 68.8 percent of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation. The American Trucking Associations reported that the all-time high of tonnage was reached in January of this year.

Put all these factors in the mix and the ATA believes that trucking will need to hire an average of 89,000 drivers per year over the next decade.

"The ability to find enough qualified drivers is one of our industry's biggest challenges," said ATA President and CEO Bill Graves.

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The ATA stated that the truck driver shortage could be attributed to the relatively high median age industrywide.

Interstate laws require drivers to be 21 years old — eliminating younger candidates while losing retiring baby boomers. The study also found that only 6 percent of truck drivers are women at a time when other industries are hiring more and more females. The ATA said recruiting problems are caused in part by truck drivers living a difficult, unconventional lifestyle, with long and tiring on-road hours.

"Make no mistake, the driver shortage is a challenge, but it is not an insurmountable one," said ATA chief economist Bob Costello.

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The ATA proposes the following solutions to address the shortage:

  • Increase driver pay and offer sign-on bonuses.
  • Offer more at-home time
  • Lower the interstate driving age
  • Improving driver images
  • Cater to former military
  • Better the treatment of drivers by companies in the supply chain
  • Autonomous commercial trucks

In the meantime, Costello and economic analyst Rod Suarez believe the industry should "expect driver pay to continue rising as long as the driver shortage continues."