With robot trucks in the news as a resolution to the trucker shortage, one has to wonder why there’s a considerable absence of drivers in the trucking industry to begin with. Let’s look at what problems truckers face and why it’s not appealing to potential workers.
The low parts of a truck driver’s life
One of the most frustrating parts of a long-haul trucker’s life is the surveillance drivers find themselves under. According to The New York Times, most trucking companies use cameras and sensors to essentially “spy” on their employees while they’re on the road. The idea behind it is for safety, both for the trucker and for others driving alongside them. However, it’s at the expense of their privacy.
Sometimes you have to deal with situations that have no resolution while you’re away. Jon Knope shared a story of a time when he was traveling in the Northern Ohio area to New York. The cabin heater broke during the trip, and he couldn’t run the tractor-trailer’s engine at night.
The company had an automated system running on the truck that wouldn’t allow the engine to turn over in the evening hours, and there was no way to override the system. So, Knope found himself sleeping in his truck for several nights in freezing temperatures with absolutely no heat.
Low pay and long hours are two other complaints truckers have made. Experts are concerned because these employees are getting paid by the mile and not by the time, so truckers have to work longer to make ends meet. This, however, can lead to inattentiveness at the wheel and, in more dangerous cases, sleeping while driving.
With the drawbacks in a trucker’s life, why did Knope get into this career?
Jon Knope was originally into ridesharing before he became a trucker. However, he got tired of hustling for jobs using his mother’s station wagon. The call of a trucker’s life appealed to him because of the possibility of making good money, and he had a love of driving, so he signed up for a truck-driving school and was hired not long after that.
He spent over 900 nights on the road the first few years, watching the day begin and end by himself, living out of the tractor-trailer he drove. In that time, he put on over 350,000 miles of long-distance driving. Of course, he has experienced the lack of privacy with the surveillance systems the company imposed, but it’s just something he seems to deal with to make the money he makes.
Why is there such a high turnover rate for truck drivers?
One reason for the shortage of drivers for these trucks is the lower wages. Driving long distances, working long hours, less time with family, and putting up with the camera surveillance isn’t worth it to most people who have a truck driving license and are not using it. Of course, other truckers believe it’s not a shortage of workers we’re dealing with; it’s bad jobs instead.
According to The New York Times article, the turnover rate in 2019 was 91%. It explains that even though the wages were adjusted as needed for inflation, pay has still declined since at least the 1970s. In 2021, there was at least an 80,000 truck driver shortage. The reason experts report is that more non-unionized companies were let in due to fears of inflation at that time. It drove down prices for consumers but ended up squeezing wages.
Jerry Fritts is a retired long-haul trucker who began his career in the late 60s. Fritts shared that it was a little harder to get in back then. You had to wait for someone to leave their position, whether by dying or retiring. He moved into the profession when he got a call one day that “Scotty” had gotten killed, which left a position open for him.
With the increase in camera programs to watch a driver’s behavior, and fewer drivers willing to get into this career, especially when the pay isn’t good, it’s hard to tell where the trucking industry will be years down the road. If some of the drawbacks are addressed, it might make a comeback in the next couple of years.
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