The amount of U.S. truckers on the road is an important data point for American consumers. Without enough drivers, the economy and the trucking industry itself can struggle.
But the number of estimated heavy truck driving jobs in the country may be inflated, according to a report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number of long-haul truckers active in the U.S. is estimated to be somewhere between 1.87 million and 2.125 million.
This reveals a 40 percent disparity from the 3.5 million total offered by the American Trucking Associations (ATA), the biggest lobbying group in all of truck driving. This larger figure was also echoed by their research affiliate, the American Transportation Research Institute.
Craig Fuller, the managing director and founder of TransRisk and a long-time executive in the trucking industry spoke about the report, saying: “Three and a half million over-the-road [drivers] is B.S. and always has been. Anybody who understands the industry knows the number doesn’t represent the true for-hire market.”
The new total was arrived at using industry data from trucking companies as well as information from government databases. But the reason why this discovery was made deals with one of the biggest technological changes in trucking – the introduction of autonomous vehicles.
Many feared that these self-driving vehicles would take jobs from truckers, resulting in a mass exodus in the trucking workforce. The research to determine how driverless technology would impact the trucking workforce revealed more clarity about the exact size of that workforce.
As for the ATA’s research, its considered good for the most part, though it is not updated frequently or available to a wide range of parties. This makes it a good idea for additional research on trucking topics to take place.
The data may have been skewed because it included jobs at trucking companies other than drivers. This includes managers, logistics specialists, and mechanics who play an integral role in the trucking industry despite not working behind the wheel.
But federal data may also be inaccurate, as their numbers include jobs where driving a truck is a secondary function of a larger occupation. For example, sales positions where deliveries are made on occasion were included, though this isn’t an accurate classification of a heavy-duty trucking position.
Even those individuals that operate heavy machinery like vocational trucks are required to have a commercial driver’s license. This means it would be easy for even well-maintained databases to misclassify some positions.
The inflated number of truckers in the industry brings up another big problem – the industry could be even shorter on drivers than initial reports stated. Trucking’s shrinking roster has been one of its most concerning issues for years now.
Experts have said that thousands of new drivers will be needed in the coming years – according to the old numbers. If the roster trucking currently has was really overestimated by more than a third, the issue of the driver shortage could be more serious and more difficult to solve than originally thought.