SAN DIEGO — Soaring fuel prices surpassed the driver shortage as the trucking industry’s top concern this year, according to the American Transportation Research Institute’s Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry 2022 report.
The driver shortage fell to No. 2 after five years at the top of the list. The lack of available truck parking, driver compensation and the broader U.S. economy rounded out the top five concerns, according to the study, released Saturday at the American Trucking Associations’ annual Management Conference & Exhibition.
“I don’t think this means the driver shortage has gotten any better,” Rebecca Brewster, president and COO of ATRI, said during a conference panel. “Year-over-year fuel costs per mile [are] up over 35%. We know that it's particularly challenging for those who operate in the owner-operator segment, where they have less ability to negotiate fuel surcharges.”
Top issues in trucking
|Issue||2022 rank||2021 rank|
|Fuel prices||1||(Not in top 10)|
|Economy||5||(Not in top 10)|
|Detention/delay at customer facilities||6||7|
|Speed limiters||9||(Not in top 10)|
|Lawsuit abuse reform||10||4|
Fuel prices were a top-3 issue for both motor carriers and drivers, including owner-operators, according to the report.
While the driver shortage and retention remained the top two concerns of motor carriers, the rise in fuel prices has increasingly weighed on companies’ bottom lines. High fuel costs this year pushed per-mile trucking costs to their highest levels on record, according to ATRI’s 2022 Analysis of the Operational Costs of Trucking report.
During the panel discussion, Brewster pointed out the disparity between drivers’ and motor carriers’ top concerns.
“I harp on this all the time,” she said. “If your No. 1 and No. 2 concerns are finding and keeping drivers, then you’d better understand and care about what drivers say their top issues are.”
Top issues for motor carriers and commercial drivers, 2022
|Rank||Carriers||Drivers, including owner-operators|
|1||Driver shortage||Truck parking|
|2||Driver retention||Fuel prices|
|3||Fuel prices||Driver compensation|
|4||CSA||Detention/delay at customer facilities|
|6||Lawsuit abuse reform||Economy|
|7||Insurance cost/availability||HOS rules|
|8||Diesel technician shortage||ELD mandate|
|9||Detention/delay at customer facilities||Driver training standards|
|10||Truck parking||Transportation infrastructure/congestion/funding|
Truck parking, drivers’ top concern for the third straight year, made the carrier’s list for the first time in several years, Brewster said. But panelist Dennis Dellinger, president and CEO of Cargo Transporters Inc., noted the difference in its ranking by the two groups of respondents.
“It’s good that truck parking made it on the overall list,” he said. “But it made me wonder: Are we as trucking leaders out of touch with our drivers? Are we doing everything we need to be?”
More than half of the 4,200 survey respondents across North America believed the best strategy for alleviating high fuel prices is to stabilize U.S. fuel supply through federal action by expanding refining capacity, more domestic drilling or continuing to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The report noted, though, that critics have challenged the effectiveness of the last strategy.
Some states lowered prices at the pump this year via gas tax holidays, which ATRI calls “a more problematic approach” because short-term price reductions come at the expense of future road and bridge construction.
Another 23% of respondents to the survey said more research is needed to fully understand the various factors affecting the U.S.’s fuel supply. Fewer than 7% of respondents said the expansion of alternative fuel sources is the best approach for addressing high fuel costs.
Fleet executives having difficulty recruiting drivers should consider how the drivers they already employ could serve as ambassadors, said panelist Theldorine “Dee” Sova, a driver for Prime, Inc. and a 2019-2020 America’s Road Team Captain. Many at Prime are active on TikTok, Facebook and YouTube, selling potential recruits on the industry and the company.
“Our drivers are the No. 1 marketing tool,” Sova said. “They’ve managed to pull in a great amount of our student base because of their marketing skills.”