«  View All Posts

Is There a Truck Driver Shortage? Debunking the Myth of the Driver Shortage

February 14th, 2024

Lars Offerdahl

Lars Offerdahl

Lars has been in the trucking industry his whole working life. He started working in the shop when he was just 16 years old. Lars spent about 10 years in operations before moving to driver recruiting. He spent five years in recruiting before joining the ATS team as the vice president of driver recruiting. He currently serves as the vice president of van operations. No day is ever the same in the trucking industry and Lars enjoys the challenge that presents.

We’ve heard it for the last several years: “There’s a driver shortage.” But is there any truth to it? It’s not a simple yes or no answer.

In truth, this phrase has been tossed around off and on for a decade — and probably long before that. Digging into the issue becomes more of an economics conversation than a people conversation, however, the issue is often oversimplified.

Nonetheless, the topic of a driver shortage is one that needs discussing. After all, if you’re thinking about becoming a truck driver yourself or you’re already in the trucking industry, you’ll want to have a grasp on what the future holds and how it’ll affect you. 

I’ve held multiple roles in the trucking industry since 2007, so I know a thing or two about supply and demand and supposed truck driver shortages. In this article, I’ll attempt to explain this complicated subject to get to the heart of the matter. 

Let’s unpack this together. 

Is There a Truck Driver Shortage Today? 

The prevailing belief in a driver shortage sparks a labyrinth of complexities. 

I’ll start by answering the question simply: No, there isn’t a truck driver shortage right now. In fact, we have a surplus of drivers. 

With depressed rates and load counts, it’s difficult for drivers to earn the income they did just a few years ago. (I’ll get into more of this later.)

However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be fearful of a truck driver shortage in the long term. All signs are pointing to problems for the trucking industry years down the road.  

Let’s start by considering the average age of a truck driver, which is 47 years old. Compared to the rest of the workforce, in which the average worker is 38, drivers are nearly a decade older. 

Couple that with the knowledge that truck drivers typically retire around age 62 (if they retire at all) and we could be facing a real problem in about 15 years, akin to the impending retirement wave of baby boomers.

Younger people simply aren’t entering the trucking industry with the frequency of generations before them. The industry itself is largely at fault. The drivers of yesteryears evoked a romanticized image of truck drivers as modern-day adventurers, akin to cowboys traveling the open roads. 

Yet, the industry failed to evolve, adapt and keep up with pay changes. The depiction of the truck driver profession as an enticing, long-term career option has largely lost its appeal. The suggestion of impending robot automation further dampens its allure.

All this spells potential issues for the industry in a few years if we as an industry don’t act.

Man leaning against tanker.

A Shortage of Qualified Truck Drivers 

While there might not be a truck driver shortage today, pre-2023 we did see a shortage of qualified drivers. It’s not outside the realm of what we still may be facing in 2024.

For example, here at Anderson Trucking Service (ATS), we have tight hiring restrictions — as do many other large trucking companies. We were getting hundreds and hundreds — even thousands — of applications each week in 2023 but we could only hire one percent of them. 

Why? Drivers didn’t meet qualifications. It was largely due to them having too many jobs on their records. Job-hopping — the practice of hopping from company to company frequently — can disqualify drivers from a lot of trucking companies.  

A lot of drivers started to job-hop heavily in late 2022 and 2023 as rates dropped and so did load counts. Instead of seeing it as an industry problem, a lot of them thought it was a problem with their trucking company, so they jumped ship — and then the cycle continued. 

Many companies slowed hiring because of this, so although there were fewer qualified drivers, no one really felt it. 

Today’s Driver Surplus

As I said earlier, there are a lot of economic factors at play when considering the supposed truck driver shortage. Whether or not we have enough drivers to satisfy freight capacity comes down largely to economic conditions in which drivers turn into commodities. 

Pre-2021, a driver shortage was a big conversation. Wages hadn’t increased at the right pace for many years which kept drivers out of the market. Then in 2018, freight rates were through the roof. As wages increased, we saw a hiring boom and drivers flooding the market. As we went into 2019, those rates started to drop again. When the pandemic hit in 2020, it threw the supply chain into chaos.

Companies collectively stopped hiring drivers during the lockdown (which was arguably a bad decision). With nowhere to go, drivers found other jobs and left the industry. 

Then the freight boom hit during the pandemic and companies needed to find a way to get drivers back in the industry. Wages increased again. With rates high and freight flowing freely, we had a good balance between supply and demand for a year or two. 

At the end of 2022, the market shifted and rates decreased. Consumer spend shifted, which meant less freight was moving. With an abundance of drivers in the industry but not as much freight to go around, drivers who were making bank in 2021 saw their checks dwindle. This continued through 2023. 

In 2024, we’re seeing small trucking companies and drivers leave the industry entirely. Market conditions have made it tough for everyone with not enough freight to go around. Some drivers, if they didn’t leave the industry altogether, gave up their authority and joined trucking companies as company drivers to get some support and protection from the company.  

As we see trucks leaving the market and trucking companies maintaining or shrinking truck counts (rather than growing), we may see the market balance out a bit. With fewer drivers in the industry, there will be more loads to go around. 

One thing that can slow this down is companies trying and succeeding at getting more miles out of their trucks. Even when drivers leave, other drivers on the fleet will pick up that freight. The company can run with fewer drivers this way.

Two men in coats and hats and reflective vests talking by construction equipment.

Navigating the 2024 Market and Beyond 

The debate over a truck driver shortage reveals a nuanced reality. Currently, there’s a surplus of drivers, but the industry faces potential challenges in the long term due to an aging workforce and a diminishing appeal to younger generations.

The prospect of a market balance emerges as some drivers leave the industry, potentially creating more opportunities as freight demand adjusts to the evolving landscape.

In short: I don’t believe we’ve ever really had a truck driver shortage, and certainly not in the last few years. In 2023, we faced a shortage of qualified drivers (and we may still see this in 2024), but we have plenty of drivers in the industry to meet freight demands. 

However, the impending shortage of qualified drivers remains a concern. The industry’s focus needs to move to attracting younger drivers and showing what a lucrative career it can be. 

Stay updated on everything trucking by subscribing to the ATS Learning Center and seeing what’s in store for drivers in 2024.