Commercial Truck Driver Shortage Creates A Clear and Present Danger On U.S. Roads

May 7, 2014

Recent news reports have highlighted the burgeoning shortage of pilots who are qualified and willing to work for the nation’s air carriers. This shortage has had the greatest impact on regional carriers that operate flights to and from smaller cities. In fact, many commuter airlines have announced that they are reducing the number of flights they offer and grounding planes, citing an inability to attract and retain qualified pilots for their regional routes.

Several causes have been put forth as a possible explanation for the current shortage of pilots: the retirements of baby-boomer pilots is often mentioned as such a cause, as is the enhanced requirements for pilots that fly regional routes, implemented in large part following the 2009 crash in Buffalo, N.Y. that killed 50 people on board. But many, if not most, of these discussions focus on the relatively low wages that are currently paid to pilots who fly for regional carriers. Salaries at these carriers land somewhere between $20,000 to $25,000 per year for a pilot starting out his or her career; adding insult to injury is the fact that many pilots incur as much as a six-figure debt, in order to pay for their required education and training needed to obtain an aviation license. In addition to the relatively low pay, pilots are expected to work well in excess of 40-hours per week, which some reports break down to an hourly range of around $8.75 per hour.

Such challenges are reminiscent of the current shortage of commercial truck drivers a topic that tends to receive far less media coverage. The current truck driver shortage began just prior to the Great Recession that began in early 2008. Despite the fact that the latest economic slowdown has been somewhat mitigated since the worst months of the recession, trucking companies are still experiencing difficulty finding qualified and experienced tractor-trailer drivers. Some commercial trucking companies have even resorted to creating and operating their own training programs and truck-driver schools in order to meet their own needs. The fierce recruitment within the industry is evidenced by the nearly ubiquitous advertisements on the back of commercial trailers offering trucking employment opportunities.

Much like the current shortage of pilots, the ongoing lack of tractor-trailer drivers can be traced directly to the stagnant wages offered throughout the commercial trucking industry. While working as a truck driver has always been a job with many challenges, perhaps the biggest obstacle to ending this shortage is the difficulty facing drivers trying to earn enough to support a family. Because the industry’s wages have failed to keep up with the times, truck driving has increasingly become a less attractive career option.

The simple solution to the shortage would be for trucking companies to compete for drivers by raising wages, which would ultimately result in more people being drawn to the work. Unfortunately, this is not always the direction taken. Rather than offer increased compensation to recruit and retain qualified and professional drivers, many companies are simply lowing their standards. This can mean hiring new drivers or enrolling trainees who lack the skill, responsibility, or physical qualifications necessary to safely operate a tractor-trailer. In other cases, it means looking the other way when drivers are physically un-fit or have a history of repeatedly violating road safety rules.

Warshauer Woodward Atkins recently obtained a favorable settlement for the family of a young man who was killed in a tractor-trailer collision. Key to obtaining the settlement was the firm’s ability to uncover evidence that the truck driver involved in the wreck should never have been on the road in the first place. He suffered many physical conditions that should have disqualified him from driving; moreover, he had a habit of repeatedly violating hours of service requirements, which are designed to keep drivers from operating huge trucks while fatigued. Despite these issues and many other red flags, this driver was allowed to keep driving for the large trucking company he worked for. Warshauer Woodward Atkins uncovered evidence that the company was struggling to recruit and retain drivers. By retaining dangerous drivers, the trucking company was able to move more freight and receive more revenue; however, in doing so, the company gambled with the safety of the public by hoping that placing a recess character behind the wheel would not result in tragic consequences.

It is my hope that the shortages of truck drivers and pilots will lead trucking and airline companies to take steps to make these important jobs more desirable. It is inevitable, however, that some companies will continue to choose to cut corners, engage dangerous operators and simply hope that nothing bad will happen. It is imperative that these trucking firms are held responsible for the deaths and injuries that result from offering drivers such outdated wages. It is only fair that the victims of truck wrecks and airplane crashes receive compensation for their losses; additionally, operators must not be allowed to profit by taking chances on the road, and expect innocent victims and their families to shoulder the financial and emotional load of personal injuries resulting from preventable accidents.

Warshauer Woodward Atkins protects victims and their families who have suffered catastrophic personal injury or wrongful death as a result of a car accident involving a commercial truck, please contact us online to schedule a free consultation about your case.