Is the Truck Driver Shortage Hurting Road Safety?

There is a serious labor problem that the trucking industry has been forced to reckon with for quite some time, though it has been especially challenging since the rebound of the U.S. economy. Truck industry trade groups refer to this labor problem as a “truck driver shortage.”

It seems, at least on the surface, as if trucking companies are looking into virtually every avenue to address this problem, from lowering the age requirements to attract younger drivers to making it easier for service members to become truck drivers. The one avenue that doesn’t seem to be of great interest to some trucking companies is actually paying adequate wages and providing benefits that would make the job a desirable one for potential truck drivers.

Discontent from Drivers

This year, there have been a number of labor protests in which drivers called for their employers to provide them with benefits and to classify them as actual employees and not just independent contractors. Being considered a contractor as opposed to an employee means that not only do drivers foot the bill for more expenses and downtime, but also they are not given the same protections as employees when it comes to healthcare and compensation for work injuries.

To make matters worse, workers are turning away from the trucking industry because it is a chronically unhealthy environment. The health of an average truck driver is worse than other types of American workers, with higher rates of obesity, smoking, heart disease and diabetes, to name just a few of the many problems. The work environment makes it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and since so many employers aren’t guaranteeing drivers some of the most basic health benefits that the rest of us enjoy, it is understandable that workers are becoming disenchanted with the idea of getting behind the wheel of a big rig.

The Impact on Road Safety

So, what does this mean for the safety of our roads? There are a number of implications this labor crisis has for the rest of us. The current workforce is being stretched thin, meaning that drivers are forced to work under more stressful and demanding conditions, which makes them more likely to be involved in crashes and collisions.

Much to their dismay, truck drivers are increasingly being paid by the mile as opposed to by the hour, forcing them to look for ways to cover more ground. They are also supposed to meet certain Hours of Service requirements, which makes this task even more daunting. Some drivers choose to travel faster in order to meet demands. Drivers who have speed limiters equipped on their trucks have to reconcile themselves to the fact they are simply going to make less money for the same amount of work.

Then there are the more obvious repercussions of an unhealthy workforce in the trucking industry. For example, sleep apnea is prevalent among truck drivers. Sleep apnea not only prevents truck drivers from getting an adequate amount of sleep, it also decreases their daytime alertness, putting them in a situation where they will be more likely to cause crashes and endanger other drivers.

The answer to so many of these problems is to pay drivers more and offer them better benefits, but companies have been slow to respond. Until they do, more and more drivers will choose to leave the trucking industry to find better work elsewhere, and the remaining drivers will continue to suffer. And by extension, so will those that share the roads with them.