Expanding economy highlights driver shortage

As the U.S. economy continues to rebound, the national shortage of truck drivers to take goods to market is becoming more and more of an issue.

According to the American Trucking Associations (ATA), the industry is short some 35,000 drivers.

The shortage has left major carriers struggling, pushed up freight rates, and could contribute to an increase in inflation, analysts said. The shortfall could grow to around 240,000 drivers by 2020 if it is not addressed, the ATA said.

To combat the problem, trucking companies are offering incentives to lure truckers to fill vacant jobs. Some are picking up the cost of licensing and many offer signing bonuses.

According to DAT Solutions, which provides data to the transport sector, the driver shortage helped push the rate per mile for freight shipped on long-term contracts up 8 percent on the year in August, to around $1.80 a mile. Rates in the spot market, where customers move freight at short notice, rose 14 percent to $1.92.

Industry analysts predict that publicly-traded manufacturers will complain of problems moving goods when reporting third quarter earnings as the peak holiday season nears. Eventually, the increase will hit consumers, said Jason Seidl, a transportation analyst at Cowen & Co.

“This is the mother of all truck driver shortages,” said Seidl.

Demographic changes are compounding the problem. The average truck driver is 55, and more drivers are retiring. Not enough younger workers are signing up, forcing companies like Werner, Celadon Group Inc. and J B Hunt Transport Services Inc. to offer signing bonuses to new drivers.