Keeping It Fresh: The Truck Driver Shortage

Keeping It Fresh:                          The Truck Driver Shortage

By Harry Balam, ALC Los Angeles

One of the biggest problems the transportation industry is faced with is a truck driver shortage. I have been in this industry for 16 years and this is, by far, the worst I’ve seen it. However, one can argue that this isn’t a new problem. In fact, analysts and industry groups have warned of truck driver shortages for years.

 Those of us in the industry have been aware of this problem for a while and have struggled to find drivers to cover loads. But the truck driver shortage has hit the average American much closer to home in the last few years. Empty store shelves caused by pandemic supply chain disruptions are just bringing this ever-growing problem to light and gaining the attention of the American people and lawmakers. No toilet paper = unhappy Americans.

According to the American Trucking Association, the truck driver shortage is currently at 80,000 and could climb to 160,000 by 2030. 
It has been argued that the truck driver shortage isn’t exactly a shortage. “It’s a recruitment and retention problem,” said Michael Belzer, a trucking industry expert at Wayne State University.

In the U.S., “there are in fact, millions of truck drivers – people who have commercial driver’s licenses – who are not driving trucks and are not using those commercial driving licenses, more than we would even need,” Belzer said. He argues that it is because people have been initially recruited to the job and maybe even trained and then realize that the job is not for them. 
So then, the problem lies in not just how to keep current drivers actively driving, but also, how to recruit new drivers.

One idea is to help pave the way for drivers under 21 years old to enter interstate trucking. I know…sounds scary, right? I’m currently trying to wrap my head around trying to teach my teenage son how to drive. The thought of teen drivers on the interstate pulling an 80,000 pound machine is more than a little alarming. But, the more I read about it, the more I feel like it could be an avenue worth pursuing.

President Biden signed a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package into law last November. There is a lot included in that hefty price tag, one of which is the bipartisan DRIVE-Safe Act. The DRIVE-Safe Act focuses on one of the biggest obstacles to recruiting younger drivers, the requirement that they are at least 21 years old to drive in interstate commerce. One can obtain a commercial driver’s license at 18 but federal law has prevented them from crossing state lines.

“The DRIVE-Safe Act addresses our industry’s largest challenge by creating an apprenticeship program that will help train the next generation of safe, skilled drivers,” said Dan Van Alstine, who serves on the board of the ATA. The Act recognizes the fact that teen drivers have higher rates of auto accidents so it included added safety and training standards for newly qualified and current drivers. The new drivers must complete at least 400 hours of on-duty time and 240 hours of driving time in the cab with an experienced driver.

 Also, every driver will be required to train on trucks equipped with new safety technology including active braking collision mitigation systems, video event capture, and a speed governor of 65 miles per hour or less and automated manual transmissions.

Also aimed at helping the retention and recruitment problem and is a new proposal to create a new refundable tax credit for truckers. On April 1, Reps. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) and Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) introduced a bipartisan bill that would create a tax credit just for truck drivers as a way to attract and retain more drivers in the industry. The Strengthening Supply Chains Through Truck Driver Incentives Act would create a new refundable tax credit of up to $7,500 for truck drivers holding a valid Class A CDL who drive at least 1,900 hours in the year. This tax credit would last for two years (2022 and 2023). It would also create a new refundable tax credit of up to $10,000 for new truck drivers or individuals enrolled in a registered trucking apprenticeship.

It is too early to know the future of this very newly proposed bill, but one thing is for certain – something needs to change. Just because things have been done a certain way for decades doesn’t mean we should keep doing it that way. Change brings opportunity. Like John F. Kennedy said, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”


Harry Balam attended Los Angeles Mission College and began working as a transportation broker in the dry division for ALC in 2006. After two years he moved to the refrigerated division. He currently works as an operations supervisor in the ALC Los Angeles office.