Today I wanted to look at some of the causes why the experienced professional American truck driver is becoming extinct, if there is a way to stop it from happening and how to protect them in the future if they have one.
The ability to stand together.
July 1st, 2013 was a significant date in the history of the professional American truck driver, you see it marked a point where it became clear that the majority of CDL holders on the roads today lost their will to stand up for themselves and they lost their ability to put aside personal differences in order to achieve a goal for all drivers.
I liken the current state of the trucking industry today to a dysfunctional family, Mom wants to go to the grocery store to get food for the family. Brother and Sister immediately start arguing over who is going to sit where in the car, eventually Mom becomes upset and says “that’s it, we’re not going” and then the family starts to whine when there is no food in the house. All because they couldn’t put aside their petty squabbles long enough for the good of the family. So how does that apply to the trucking industry? We have every type of driver on the roads today, we have owner operators and company drivers. We have drivers that prefer flatbed over vans or reefers some that prefer Peterbilt to Kenworth or Freightliner over International trucks. Based on their preferences many of them start to view it as a right or wrong situation and will argue over something as petty as a choice of truck and let it become bad blood between them. Then when one of them comes up with an idea that could help drivers all across the country the others sit back and say “I’m not supporting that because that person likes yellow trucks”.
Participation When It Matters
In an industry with over 3 million drivers you seldom get more than 2% to take any active participation in something that would benefit drivers as a whole however you will have over 90% complaining about how bad the current job conditions are and how little they are respected.Time and time again it happens, you will hear drivers complain about a situation and say that something needs to be done about it. Then when it comes time for drivers to get involved they are nowhere to be found. There have been listening sessions and there have been webinars, conference calls, email campaigns, petitions and even designs for a shutdown and most never drew the participation of more than 2,000 professional drivers at any one time. Yet when it becomes time for the truck shows and trade shows to look at new products then they don’t miss those. We all understand that it might be more entertaining to go to a truck show than to participate in a discussion with politicians or to take 45 seconds to sign a petition. When lawmakers and people pulling the strings in Washington D.C. look out across the table and only see thirty truck drivers attending a forum then they already know they have you beaten into submission because they know that not enough people cared to show up. We have heard every excuse under the sun why people didn’t participate but to be brutally honest with my fellow drivers out there today, the excuses are killing us.
Over-regulation of a Deregulated Industry
We all know that the motor Carrier Act of 1980 was supposed to deregulate the trucking industry but in recent years we have been facing more regulations being passed on a regular basis, to the point where compliance has become an art form. Many of the people enforcing the regulations don’t even know what they are and many of the people making the regulations have absolutely no idea how it will impact the industry before they put them into place. The trucking industry has become a regulation lab experiment and nobody in the government is willing to do anything about it. Unfortunately most of the regulation has been directed at the drivers, limiting their ability to run safe and efficiently.
Driver Pay and Retention
Driver wages have long been a sore spot within the industry, when compared to other professions it constantly ranks among the bottom feeders in the rate at which it increases each year. Carriers devote time and money to assemble a recruiting staff that in some cases rivals the U.S. military. Recruiters will sell a prospective driver anything under the sun to get them into orientation. They promise great pay per mile, then when a driver shows up at orientation they are informed that the numbers quoted to them are only if you meet the requirements for fuel, safety, and on time bonuses. Many companies will set the bar high enough so a driver cannot meet all of the requirements which in turn decreases their pay to a substandard rate. The trucking industry is also notorious for allowing many hours worked by drivers to go unpaid completely, drivers often work 70 hour weeks with no additional compensation for the extra hours. Drivers often do not get home time as promised and are in many cases required to run in violation of federal regulations and operate substandard equipment so it is no surprise that the turnover rate in the industry hovers right around the 100% mark on average. Safe parking for drivers has also become a major problem in recent years and was met with empty promises and bills to alleviate the problem and yet it still persists.
With all of the problems mentioned above many experienced drivers finally get fed up with not being paid more for their experience or they have had enough of being treated poorly so they leave the industry completely. Many carriers then replace them with students fresh out of driving school and put them into a truck on their own with as little as one month of experience with a trainer who may only have 6 months experience of their own. When you replace experience with inexperience you will have increases in accidents, freight damage claims, compliance violations, late deliveries and the list goes on. A classroom cannot and will not teach students about life on the road, managing their time properly, safe and efficient driving techniques………those things come from spending time with a properly trained and experience first seat driver.
What Can We Do Now?
Quite simply put in the case on many experienced professional drivers the answer is that nothing can be done as many drivers will consider future promises as “too little too late”. I can’t say that I really blame them either as they work in an industry that really does provide the backbone of the economy in this country. Unfortunately they feel that the work they do means nothing to anyone outside of the industry. They move forward every day dealing with a government that refers to them as “unskilled” and refuses to offer them protection given to skilled labor positions. For those driver the time has passed, for the remaining experienced drivers that time is looming in the near future for them if they don’t see changes in the immediate future. For current student drivers and those with little real world experience the vast wealth of knowledge available to them has become smaller and less accessible on the road compared to what was there for them before. A greater rift is developing between new drivers and experienced drivers because they are both vying for the same job and often for the same pay.
A serious reform needs to take place and people need to start taking responsibility for the damage they have done to the industry as a whole and that includes carriers, shippers, receivers, brokers, government, and even some drivers. Either somebody comes up with a plan to communicate and actually use common sense and eliminate greed from the equation or eventually driving will be a $7/hr profession with higher safety risks than it already has. it has to be a plan that can be readily put into action without political red tape and a set deadline in the foreseeable future or the downward spiral will continue.