For the most part, truckload carriers are failing in their struggle to retain drivers, according to ATA’s most recent Trucking Activity Report. Based on data cited in the report, both the fourth quarter of 2005 and the entire year saw new driver-turnover lows in a number of industry segments.

Driver turnover in large truckload linehaul carriers in 4Q 2005 increased 1% to a 136% annual rate. This tied the all-time record high set in 1Q 2004. Last year marked the worst year for turnover among large truckload carriers on record, at 130%. Turnover for the second-worst year, 2004, was 121%.

The small linehaul carrier turnover rate surged 18% in 4Q 2005 to a record high of 109%. For the full year 2005, turnover averaged 96%, also setting a new record high.

“I’m perplexed as to why it went up,” Jim O’Neal, first vice chair of the Truckload Carriers Assn. and president of Springfield, MO-based O&S Trucking told FleetOwner. “If we’re doing what we should be doing it should go down. Eventually someone will put together the right benefits of pay and culture to encourage drivers to stay here and grow here. This may just be the storm before the calm. Every carrier in the industry is bending over backwards to satisfy the whole array of needs of drivers.

“[O&S Trucking’s] driver turnover is less than the industry average but we noticed it has ramped up too,” he continued. “It’s indicative of the challenges the [truckload] industry faces in meeting basic needs of a livable driver wage and lifestyle that meets his personal needs.”

O’Neal said the aging demographics of drivers might have played a role in retirees exiting the industry. In addition, he sees a ‘driver churn’ as drivers jump from one carrier to the next. On the positive side, wages have risen to become more comparable to that of other industries that typically lure drivers away from trucking.

“It used to be that construction took trucking jobs but I think wages raised high enough that it isn’t the case that it used to be,” O’Neal said

LTLs reported a 5% increase in driver turnover, bringing the annual rate to 17%. For all of 2005, driver turnover averaged 15%.

The good news is that the driver pool increased by 2.9% in 4Q 2005, which provided carriers with some extra capacity. Small truckload carriers generally benefited the most from this, adding 2.1% more employees. The workforce among large truckload carriers, in contrast, shrunk 0.1%. LTLs saw its headcount expand by 0.7%.