This is not news; this national driver shortage is no shock to businessmen or policymakers. Our driver shortage contributes to empty store shelves, idled assembly lines, retail price inflation, a reduced Gross Domestic Product, and the global supply chain crisis.
This is not just one industry’s problem; it’s everybody’s problem. What is odd, however, is that so many people believe the trucker shortage is caused entirely by not enough people choosing the profession of truck driving as a career. While that is certainly a part of it, it’s not our real problem.
In fact, our truck driver shortage is caused primarily by a series of destructive government policies at every level.
…And these are just (a few of) the reasons we need so many more drivers than we should. We could also look at issues like the double-hit of the federal payroll tax that attacks owner-operators so hard. We could consider the complexities of federal Hours of Service (HoS) regulations that make every log sheet and fleet schedule a math project. We could review the federal fuel efficiency standards that have left common sense behind, chasing after ever-more-expensive, ever-less-worthwhile gains in efficiency, pricing rigs beyond the reach of entrepreneurial individuals, all contributing to the end result: making truck driving less appealing to the next generation of workers.
We could also look at, say, exorbitant license and accreditation fees, permits innumerable, and unnecessarily burdensome and costly “safety” regulations. Back when I was running the road in a big rig, I usually ran from CLT out to a small-town furniture factory in eastern Tennessee, hauling uncut blocks of foam for sofa and chair cushions. At 0-dark-thirty each morning I bobtailed up to Cumulus Fibers in Stateville to pick up a pre-loaded 53′ trailer stuffed with the material, a light load which only weighed in at four or five thousand pounds (max weight for your typical 53 footer is usually between 40 to 45 thousand pounds). I’d then head on out for the remote, decrepit old factory in Nowhere, Tn, spend an hour getting unloaded, and then come back to CF to drop off the trailer at Cumulus. Next morning: lather, rinse, repeat.
The only variation of this routine was that, about twice a week, the DMV lawdoggies at the I-40 weigh station in Statesville would wave me off to the side for yet another “safety” inspection. That would add another hour or so to my daily round, as Smokey crawled around underneath my trailer on a mechanic’s creeper filling out a list of “infractions” that would end up being about five-six pages’ worth.
There’s a reason for this, but I never thought of it as a good reason. What it was, was daylight fucking robbery by the Heat-o Banditos, raising vital revenue for the Almighty State. I swear, those po-lice should have been wearing a bandana across the bottom of their faces, and maybe an eye-mask, just to properly identify themselves.
See, those CF trailers were all ramshackly, rusted-out pieces of shit. Shabby as they were, though, the Cumulus bossheads knew they would easily hold up under the negligible load. Long as I made sure I got the trailer doors well secured—a sometimes tricky job, rasslin’ those wobbly, rusty, crooked-ass things together so that the latch hasp would mate with the cam bar lock well enough to keep the doors from flopping open on those rough mountain backroads—my tired old follow-on rig presented no real hazard to anybody.
Problem was, the Staties and DMV cops knew about the sad, sorry state of those Cumulus trailers same as I did. So a couple days a week, each and every week, I’d be honored as the selectee for a gimlet-eyed going over, after which I’d be presented with a stack of paper more closely resembling a Dostoevsky novel than a mere citation for violating “safety” regulations.
The funny part is, back then the fines were handled differently than now. All I had to do was hand the paperwork over to my boss, who would then mail it off to Cumulus Fibers, who would just pay ’em all off. There was never any thought of fixing the crappy trailers, much less buying new ones. The State got its pound of flesh, Cumulus could keep operating on the cheap, and I could keep my job. The fines were no more than a cost of doing business, that’s all. Nowadays, however, fines for almost anything at all are levied against the shipper and/or recipient involved, as well as the trucking company, as well as the poor old truck driver.
If he’s a company driver, and depending on who he works for, he may or may not get partially reimbursed. Although not usually; the company he works for will almost always, as a matter of policy, require their drivers to inspect their ride before leaving the hub; report any problems via a printed checklist and verbally; and demand a truck that’s up to snuff while the faulty rig gets down-checked for a trip to the shop to be repaired. This, in Cubical Land’s view, leaves Night Crawler, the Road Roller, or Ratchet Jaw ultimately responsible, so he gets to pay for his lax standards of professional conduct his own self. Just never anybody mind that he’s probably been writing up that same burned-out tail light, broken horn, or bald retread for weeks if not months, with all his paper shuffled, passed around, filed, and duly forgotten by the bossheads at Corporate. Trust me, it happens all the time, then and now.
If he’s an owner operator—a righteous entrepreneur working hard to grab himself a piece of the American Dream—well, he’s just screwed, basically.
As anybody who knows anything at all about the nature of government knows, said fines are way, WAY higher now, too.
We do need more truck drivers. Transportation is at the heart of everything in our economy, from food prices to energy, from necessities to the little luxuries that make for a modern, first-world standard of living. It’s government actions and government choices that hamstring the industry, drive up costs and drive down efficiency.
It’s government that makes us need so many more drivers than we should, and dissuades the young from going into it as a career.
We can hardly be blamed if we are reminded of the late President Reagan’s dictum: The nine scariest words in the English language are “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”
Smart man, that Gipper was. It should be noted by one and all that the further we’ve strayed from that wise maxim, the worse our situation has become. Which is why today we struggle to get by under the less-than-capable hand of a fraudulently-installed “president” with obvious mental degradation and severe integrity issues—an inarguably untrustworthy mountebank wholly unfit for the position he finally swindled his way into, after decades of scrabbling after it so desperately. Throw ruinous taxation, crippling overregulation, and an indifferent, inflexible, and out of control bureaucracy into the pot, and the rank fetor of one hellacious stew to be finding oneself in suddenly wafts up, strong and unmistakable.