Today's professional truck drivers are regarded as the safest, best-trained drivers who have ever traveled our nation's roadways. Will the same be said of our nation's future drivers? As an industry that claims notoriously high turnover, drivers have always been hard to come by. Yet, with the paring down of fleet sizes in recent years due to the recession, we are facing an unprecedented surge in the need for new drivers now that freight has started to move again. Age, economics and new regulations are pushing the industry into hunting for new drivers with the goal of maintaining exceptional safety levels.

As wheels on trucks begin to roll more frequently, safety directors across the country are facing decisions on recruitment and retention issues that have not been talked about the past few years. With the economic downturn, fleets were parking trucks due to a lack of freight. Now, quite the opposite is true, and carriers are looking for qualified drivers — who may not be in existence.

Having left the industry due to economic concerns or retirement, drivers with experience are becoming a rare commodity, leaving safety directors to contemplate hiring the less experienced driver who may be fresh out of truck driver-training school. Although overall enrollment rates in schools have remained level or increased in some circumstances, they too have suffered from the economic downturn. With some CDL training facilities closing their doors and some large carrier-operated schools no longer training entry-level drivers, the overall number of drivers has decreased. Some, if not all, of these effects have created what has been referred to as the “perfect storm of driver recruitment.”

This perfect storm has produced a new environment. A carrier will pay a premium to recruit and retain safe drivers to get its loads from Point A to Point B. Aging drivers, or even drivers who had been forced out of trucking due to the economy, will certainly have their choice of opportunities if their record reflects a clear ability to safely operate a commercial motor vehicle.

Screening a carrier's new hires will soon become an easier process as well. The Pre-employment Screening Program is being introduced to the motor carrier world as you read this column. The program is designed to assist carriers in making more informed decisions when hiring new drivers. Fleets will now have electronic access to a driver's crash and inspection history from the FMCSA Motor Carrier Management Information System, allowing them to better gauge the background of a prospective driver. The bar is certainly being raised as fleets look to add to their workforce and keep up with the increase in freight.

While driving history and safety background are high on the list of qualifications considered when increasing fleet size, carriers will no longer be able to be as selective as they were when freight volumes were low, which highlights the importance of such programs as PSP. Carriers remain as dedicated as ever to moving America's freight, as evidenced by the increased hiring of recruiters to secure drivers and by bigger budgets for advertising open jobs. As freight increases and the economic climate continues to move upward, fleets will be placing a greater importance on recruiting quality drivers, thus continuing the industry success story of reducing accidents and keeping our highways safe.

David Heller, CDS, is director of safety and policy for the Truckload Carriers Assn. He is responsible for interpreting and communicating industry-related regulations and legislation to the membership of TCA. Send comments to