Big rigs are essential to the U.S. economy. In Georgia, we get most of our out-of-state goods delivered by tractor-trailers, which haul everything from California produce to Mexican furniture into Atlanta. However, the U.S. has experienced a severe shortage of truck drivers for the past 5 years. Is this shortage leading to accidents on our roads? The truck accident attorneys at Stewart Miller Simmons Trial Attorneys investigate.
How Serious is the Shortage?
Trucking is a difficult profession. Although the entry-level pay is relatively high, workers face many challenges, including long stretches away from home and loneliness out on the road. Long-haul trucking can lead to burnout and isolation.
According to CBS News, the industry is short 80,000 drivers. By the end of the decade, this shortage could double to 160,000. The industry will need 1 million new drivers over this period just to keep up with retirements.
There are many reasons why the industry is currently struggling. For example, the COVID pandemic hit the trucking industry especially hard. Forbes reports that the industry lost 6% of its workforce during the height of the pandemic in 2021.
The industry has always seen high turnover—close to 100%. That means that the industry needs to constantly recruit new truckers.
Another problem leading to a shortage is drug use. The number of failed drug tests has skyrocketed recently. Any trucker who fails a drug or alcohol test must pass a return-to-duty process, otherwise they can’t drive. Many truckers caught for using marijuana and other drugs are choosing to walk away from the profession entirely.
Strategies to Address the Trucker Shortage
The industry has responded to the shortage with various strategies, but some of them compromise public safety:
- Keep older truckers on the road. Trucking companies are offering incentives to keep truckers on the road well past their normal retirement age. The number of truckers in their 70s and 80s has climbed considerably over the decade. But studies have shown that these older truckers are more likely to get involved in accidents than younger ones.
- Lower the minimum driving age. Another industry strategy has been to lower the minimum driving age from 21 to 18 for those hauling across state lines. In 2020, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration proposed a pilot program to let drivers 18-20 begin hauling. This program makes hauling a potentially more attractive option for young people—but are they responsible enough?
- Use automation. The trucking industry is trying to take advantage of self-driving technology. So far, automation is primarily used to help truckers in the cab, not replace them. Think cruise control or anti-collision radar. But some companies dream of putting fleets of driverless trucks on the road to haul across the country.
- Let truckers haul for longer hours. The FMCSA has hours of service regulations which set the maximum number of hours a trucker can work in a given day or week. There is constant pressure to loosen these requirements, which would let truckers haul more. So far, the agency has tinkered with some minor regulations, such as what counts as a sleeper berth break. But they have resisted allowing truckers to work more hours.
An Industry Under Pressure
With a shortage of truckers, those on the road feel intense pressure to get to their destinations as soon as possible. Trucking companies also have an incentive to overload their trucks. We should not be surprised that accidents have increased. In 2021, 4,714 people died in accidents involving large trucks, which was a double-digit increase over 2019.
Some of the most common reasons for collision include:
- Following too closely
- Fatigued driving
- Illegal cell phone use
- Driver distraction
- Alcohol or drug use
- Overloaded trucks
When a trucker is speeding, they need more time to come to a complete stop. As a result, there’s a real risk of a collision if the trucker suddenly comes upon a construction zone. Speeding truckers are also more likely to make illegal lane changes, which causes a collision with a vehicle situated in a blind spot.
Overloaded trucks are also dangerous. When a trailer is too heavy, it is at risk of rolling onto its side or jackknifing when a trucker hits the brakes. The trailer can crush any smaller vehicle in its way, leading to almost certain fatalities.
What Can the Industry Do?
Commercial trucks are central to the U.S. economy. Without them, economic activity would almost grind to a halt. We need truckers. Is there a way to increase their numbers?
Some experts have recommended making the industry friendlier to women. Currently, about 84% of truckers are men. Women represent an untapped pool of potential truckers. Others recommend making changes that retain current workers. They argue the problem isn’t finding truckers but retaining them once they start working. Different strategies include improving pay or working hours.
We aren’t sure how the industry will respond to the crisis. We hope that public safety will be at the forefront of all decisions.
Were You Injured in a Truck Accident?
Stewart Miller Simmons Trial Attorneys can assist anyone after a wreck with a big rig. Please contact our firm today for a free consultation. Our lawyers are adept at investigating accidents to pinpoint who or what is to blame.
If you reach out, we can instruct the trucking company to preserve records and electronic logs for our review. We will also try to speak with witnesses or even visit the scene.
You deserve compensation when a trucker slams into you, wrecking your car and causing bodily injuries. Our law firm has obtained settlements to cover:
- Medical bills for ambulance transportation, surgery, doctor visits, prescriptions, and rehabilitation, among other medical costs.
- Lost wages if your painful injuries prevent you from working.
- Pain and suffering for the anguish and distress you feel.
- Property damage, like damage to your car.
Call Our Atlanta Truck Accident Lawyers Today
We are passionate advocates for our client’s rights after an accident. You can speak with a member of our team by calling (404) 529-3476.