The desire for more “home time” continues to climb the list of top demands truck drivers make on employers, forcing fleet owners to readjust their hiring pitches even as they seek to fill a growing number of empty cab seats. “That ‘work-life balance’ is the number-one issue for us right now,” Gary Short, senior director of recruiting for Ryder Transportation Systems, told Fleet Owner.

“We’re looking at all our route designs to have drivers home as frequently as possible,” he explained. “Pay and benefits, of course, will always remain important. But we’re finding drivers will trade some of that for more home time. We’re finding they even choose home time over premium equipment as well.”

How to deal with a growing shortage of drivers isn’t ranks number five out of the top ten concerns of trucking executives right now, according to the annual survey conducted by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI).

Rebecca Brewster, ATRI executive director, told Fleet Owner that the driver shortage returned in 2010 as a stand-alone issue in this year’s survey in part due to “safe-driver” hiring challenges placed on carriers by new regulations such as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Comprehensive Safety Analysis (CSA 2010) program.

“What we’re seeing now, though, is that the impact of one issue can really affect the elements of the others,” Brewster added. “CSA 2010, for example, will have a critical impact on the growing shortage of truck drivers, which re-emerged this year as a concern on our survey.”

The heightened criteria of the new federal safety rules could shrink the available licensed driver pool 5% to 12%, according to Rosalyn Wilson of consulting firm Delcan. She in fact projects a 400,000-driver shortage by 2012.

“Of course, the biggest challenge we face is the overall availability of people,” Ryder’s Short added. “But we’re finding that ‘home time’ is becoming one of the most critical factors in the hiring process now.” Still, the desire by drivers to gain more home time does offer some advantages to fleets, too, he contended.

“When it comes to choosing between less demanding work and home time, more and more drivers are choosing home time,” Short said. “So finding drivers willing to take on more challenging routes with multi-stops for loading and unloading – so called ‘pedal routes’ – is becoming easier in many ways as a result of the home time focus.”