Can Technology Address The Truck Driver Dilemma?

The driver shortage is one of the most compelling issues facing fleet managers and company owners. Recently the ATA predicted that over the next decade we will need close to 100,000 new truck drivers a year to replace those who are retiring or leaving the industry.

Bob Costello, chief economist for the ATA produced the following graph illustrating the potential shortfall over the next ten years of 239,000 drivers. Notice the gap continues to widen over time.

ATA November 2012 Truck Driver Shortage Update

Source: ATA November 2012 Truck Driver Shortage Update

There are many reasons cited. Among these are:

Pay not good enough to be frequently away from home
Tougher regulations imposed by the Compliance Safety Accountability (CSA) Program
Stricter Enforcement of Hours of Service requirements
The “Big Brother“ effect of in-cab technology
We probably cannot do too much about the safety regulations getting tighter and even though some may disagree on how these regulations are enforced, particularly with the Hours of Service requirements, I don’t think anyone disagrees with the concept of safer drivers. We are all striving to create a safer trucking industry with safer professional drivers.

So let’s focus on the other two points – more compensatory pay and creating a positive impact of technology on the driver. That is something that fleets as well as we, the technology providers, can potentially influence.

A running theme in my blog posts lately had been the impact of the “mobile revolution” on businesses in general and specifically to the trucking industry. As I discussed in my last blog, the providers of in-cab technology like Qualcomm, XRS and PeopleNet are recognizing that the smart phone and/or the tablet adds an entirely new dimension to mobile communication by allowing mobile communication systems to not only be vehicle based BUT driver based as well.

One only needs to look at UPS and FedEx drivers to see a model for professional tech-savvy drivers who are comfortable with driver based systems.

Current smartphone technology creates an environment where all trucking companies can have access to technology that previously only big well-funded carriers had. Cameras, document imaging, signature capture, web access and email on a smartphone in the driver’s hands can create significant efficiencies for the trucking company – transferring responsibilities that were previously in the office to the driver. At the same time, driver based communication systems should be family friendly allowing the driver to communicate with his family and feel more connected both to his company and to his family while he is on the road.

I am optimistic and believe the “mobile revolution” can be an asset in attracting safer, responsible, tech-savvy drivers in the new economy. Those carriers who will successfully recruit and retain these drivers will be those that:

Bring the drivers into the technology discussion
Connect vehicle based technology with driver based technology
Make the driver an integral part of your IT system
Pay them well and justify it with increased efficiencies
Make Mobile Communication systems family friendly
We, as technology providers, owe it to the fleets we serve to help them use technology to attract drivers not to push them away. Fleet owners and managers are our partners in addressing this very serious issue.