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| March 25, 2009

The longtime truck driver shortage has gone away, but will return, perhaps as early as next year, according to the American Trucking Associations.

Bob Costello, ATA chief economist and vice president, says the association doesn’t have data indicating when the shortfall changed to what he called a surplus.

“No, there isn’t a shortage today,” Costello says. “But in the long-run, absolutely there will still be a driver shortage, once the economy recovers. Remember, we are in the worst economic downturn in decades. However, any economic activity is expected to be very meager at first, so I don’t expect a driver shortage to return until sometime in 2010.”

Clayton Boyce, ATA press secretary and vice president, says recession factors that temporarily reduced, or in some industry sectors ended, the driver shortage included:

· Freight dropped through 2008.
· Some homebuilding workers switched to driving while construction remained down.
· In the first three quarters of 2008, 2,690 trucking companies with five trucks or more went bankrupt, including some sizeable companies.

Costello adds that overall driver turnover fell to an annualized low rate of 65 percent in the third quarter. By comparison, large truckload driver turnover peaked at 136 percent in the fourth quarters of 2004 and 2005, when freight was strong. Until recently, the lowest turnover for large TL carriers was 77 percent in the fourth quarter of 1997.

“This is the first time in 38 years I’ve really not seen a shortage of drivers,” says Robert McClanahan, executive director of the 96-member National Association of Publicly Funded Truck Driving Schools.

McClanahan says that last spring national enrollment dropped from steady enrollment numbers for the first time this decade, and from even higher enrollment of the mid-to-late 1990s. But enrollment increased in states such as Michigan, where unemployed autoworkers are seeking new careers.

Carriers are hiring far fewer inexperienced drivers and being more selective about the schools from which they recruit, he says.

Schneider National recently quit doing entry level driver training “for now,” says Don Osterberg, Schneider National’s vice president of safety and training. However, the company’s training academy will continue to train U.S. drivers with experience. Last year, the academy’s training of inexperienced drivers dropped from 70 percent to 30 percent, Osterberg says.

The driver surplus defies long-held expert predictions. In 2005 an ATA-sponsored study estimated that from 2004 to 2014, white men of ages 35 to 54 – the demographic group providing more than half of all long-haul truck drivers – would decline by 3 million.
- Jill Dunn

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