There’s the overarching demographic situation, which grows more prominent each year as more and more Baby Boomers retire out of the workforce in general. That is to say, as well-documented in the general media, the graying of the American workforce alone is helping to sharply drive up the driver shortage.

Indeed, according to ATA’s Costello, nearly two-thirds of the need for new drivers is coming from industry growth as well as retirements. “Demographics are changing the makeup of the U.S. labor force, and carriers must seek drivers beyond their traditional labor pools,” suggests CMVC’s Brady. “This will require different recruiting and retention techniques and probably changes in vehicle specs [to better accommodate women] as well."

“Truckers are projected to exit the workforce in a growing wave,” says NPTC’s Petty. “The first Baby Boomers turned 65 in 2012. And even as the Baby Boomers begin to retire, the pool of CDL-eligible 21-year-olds is growing at a slower rate. There is a gap between retirement-eligible U.S. males and CLD-eligible U.S. males.”

Petty also points out that “moderate growth in freight demand has made it difficult for many drivers who lost their jobs during the recession to return. Many turcking companies are simply hiring much more slowly than in previous recovery periods. "And," he adds, "many drivers who sought to work in other fiels appear content to stay in those jobs boy for pay and lifestyle reasons."

Big Brother

Frustration with existing as well as upcoming driver-related regulations is widely expected this year to literally drive more drivers right out of the occupation. And that will be going on even as changes in one rule in particular—hours of service (HOS)—will lead many fleets to up their count of trucks and, of course, drivers for them.

“The federal Carrier, Safety, Accountability [CSA] oversight program has taken out many drivers,” says NPTC’s Petty. “With regulations like CSA pushing the industry towards better quality drivers, demand for the best drivers will only increase.”

“Along with being concerned about CSA, many drivers, especially older ones, regard HOS tracking as a nuisance,” points out Ron Goode, director of education for the Truckload Carriers Assn. “And ‘Boomer’ drivers especially tend to be put off by the use of electronic onboard recorders.”

ATA strongly contends that certain government regulations— chiefly CSA and the yet-to-be-implemented HOS changes—will “exacerbate” the driver shortage. But it feels the transition to electronic logging by fleets is “unlikely to have a significant impact.”

“If the changes to HOS regulations are implemented in 2013, it will likely reduce motor carrier productivity by as much as 3%,” predicts ATA’s Costello. “As a result, carriers will have to add more trucks and drivers to haul the same amount of freight, thus exacerbating the shortage.

“The CSA program will likely add to the driver shortage as well,” he continues. “Recent data shows that approximately 7% of drivers generate a significant portion of the CSA scoring problems for carriers.

“While not all 7% will be pushed out of the industry overnight, over time, CSA and the related pre-employment driver screening program facilitated by the government will exacerbate the driver shortage, “ Costello contends.

On the other hand, he figures that the mandated use of electronic logging devices (ELDs, also known as electronic onboard recorders or EOBRs), is unlikely to intensify the driver shortage significantly.

“Data shows that about 4% of drivers violate weekly HOS limits,” he explains, “so the likely impact of ELDs on the shortage is relatively small.

“In addition, the vast majority of carriers that are voluntarily implementing ELDs today say that they can eventually boost efficiency because they can better match drivers with loads,” points out Costello. “In other words, electronic logs facilitate better driver and operations planning.

“However,” he adds, “there is a chance that a small number of current drivers will leave due to more government oversight with ELDs. But that number is unlikely to have a significant impact on the driver shortage.”

A long-in-place regulation is also troubling to those seeking to bring younger drivers into the long-haul fold before they settle on another career. That is the federal rule that prevents 18- to 21-year-olds licensed to drive tractor-trailers intrastate from operating interstate.

“Certainly, it would be something if we could get that rule changed,” remarks TCA’s Goode. “In every other profession, someone can enter the field right out of high school. But in trucking, qualified drivers have to legally wait three years to drive interstate. By then, those driving intrastate often have moved on.”

However, Goode does allow that he’s not heard of any truckload carrier “going down to age 21 to find drivers, and many have strict rules on the number of years of experience needed, even for those entering trucking who are older. Whether much is done to hire younger drivers really depends on the individual carrier.”

“Insurance carriers typically require a minimum age of 24 or 25,” observes Lana Batts, partner at Transport Capital Partners (TCP). “So, trying to start with younger drivers only works with firms like UPS,” which can and do provide a driver career path from entry level to big rig.