Experts say reports of an American truck driver shortage are overblown

Many are quick to blame a national truck driver shortage, but experts say the shortage has been overblown.

The idea of a shortage of truck drivers has been a point of debate in the industry for decades, but it has become a scapegoat for shipping delays.

Billy Randel, a long-haul trucker and the leader of the Truckers Movement for Justice, told Insider that companies have found a way to pin the crisis on the backs of truck drivers. Even without the data to back it up, this notion of a trucker shortage has become accepted by news outlets, companies, and customers alike.

The American Trucking Association reported a shortage of 80,000 drivers. Insider spoke with seven experts, both academic and within the industry, that said the trucker shortage has been misconstrued, and is modest at best. Before publication, an ATA spokesman did not give a comment.

The BLS reported that the industry's employment levels were within 1% of pre-pandemic levels in November.

Long-haul trucking is only impacted by the shortage, which has been cited as a reason for the port delays. Local drivers who move goods out of the ports are in good shape. The number of short-haul truckers has increased by 16,000.

Consumer-buying habits have led to an increase in demand on the supply-chain.
"When there's a sharp increase in demand, it takes any industry anywhere from a quarter to a year and a half to catch up," Stephen Burks, professor of economics and management at the University of Minnesota Morris, told Insider. The market is already catching up.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) is one of several trucking groups that disagree with the notion of a shortage. Since BLS began recording the issue, long-haul trucking has had a turnover rate of over 90 percent. Pat Nolan said the group has been trying to improve retention.

"The picture of the marketplace has not fundamentally changed," he said. Long-haul drivers can spend weeks away from home. It's never been attractive.

The experts' estimates of how many people are missing from the industry vary, but none come close to 80,000. Nolan said his company believes there will be 20,000 fewer long-haul truckers in 2019. The number is closer to 10,000, not including the record number of new trucking companies that were formed in the second quarter of 2021, according to experts.

Miller told Insider that a lot of the trucking companies are facing difficulty in finding drivers because they have shifted to building their own businesses.

The perfect environment for truckers to become business owners has been created by the high spot-freight rates. "That amount of entrepreneurship is unprecedented and that inherently is going to create some disruption."

The issue is not limited to the trucking industry. Drop-off and pickup locations are inefficient and can affect the time taken on the road. David Correll, a research scientist at MIT's Center for Transportation and Logistics, found that truckers only spend about 6.5 hours driving per day, even though federal safety regulations allow them to drive for 11 hours a day.

He testified before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that 40% of US trucking capacity is not being used. Adding just 18 minutes of driving time to every existing truck driver's day would have the same effect as hiring 80,000 more drivers according to Correll's study. The report failed to address the nuances of the industry, according to the ATA.

The experts agree that the issue is the treatment of truckers.

"If consumers really understood what it was like for the truck drivers who deliver all their goods, they would be a little embarrassed or ashamed," Correll told Insider. There's no way to over emphasize how difficult their job is, but now that we have this spotlight on the industry, maybe people can try to make it better.