A combination of lifestyle, competition for "quality drivers" and small increases in freight demand are conspiring to increase the turnover rate for over-the-road truck drivers.
According to the American Trucking Associations' latest Trucking Activity Report, the turnover rate rose to 79 percent in the second quarter, up from the first quarter rate of 75 percent. It is the third quarter in a row of "increased churn" in the driver market, the ATA noted.
"Even though the increase was small, we still believe the market for quality drivers is getting extremely tight and fleets are aggressively recruiting to fill their openings," ATA chief economist Bob Costello said in a statement. "The slowdown of the economic recovery has affected the turnover rate, but if the economy continues to improve we'll see further tightening in the driver market and a renewed risk of a severe driver shortage."
Turnover at small truckload companies and less-than-truckload fleets actually fell in the quarter, dropping to 47 percent from 50 percent for small TL firms and to 6 percent from 8 percent for LTLs. Unionized LTL operations like Fort Smith-ABF Freight System likely have lower turnover rates than the overall industry.
Lane Kidd, director of the Arkansas Trucking Association, said the industry is doing better than a year ago, which has increased demand for drivers. Also, he believes captured in the turnover rate are drivers leaving one company to work for another trucking fleet.
"That's anecdotal. No one knows for sure," Kidd says. "I think it's a combination of both."
As to the increase in business he hears from trucking execs, Kidd is not sure if the industry is chasing a larger economic pie, or if there are fewer operators chasing the same pie.
Kidd also said driver lifestyle is tough, and sometimes the "new recruits" aren't given the full picture of what life is like on the road. After a few weeks or months, they simply quit.
Gordon Klemp, president of the National Transportation Institute, predicts driver pay will increase 3 cents to 5 cents per mile for company drivers and 4 cents to 6 cents for owner-operators during the next year. Speaking March 14 during an annual meeting of the Truckload Carriers Association in San Diego, said trucking companies are also offering premium pay for driver teams.
The Commercial Carrier Journal reported that Klemp noted several reasons the driver shortage may become more acute in the coming months. Those include:
• Carriers downsized their driver force during he recession;
• Unemployment benefits are generous for laid-off drivers;
• Many drivers are unqualified for the new tougher federal safety standards; and,
• Many carriers reduced recruiting and orientation staff during the downturn and have no plans to restart or restore.