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Trucker Shortages are Leading to More Truck Accidents

by  on  Truck Accidents

Delays caused by the shortage of truck drivers have consumers frustrated and annoyed. What they should be more concerned about, however, are the dangerous problems the shortage is causing on our roads. Companies are overworking their drivers and sending new drivers out before they’re ready. The result is a recipe for disaster.

Because trucks are so much heavier than consumer vehicles, truck accidents cause some of the most serious injuries on the road. And Denver truck accident lawyers know it’s only going to get worse. Read on to find out why and what you can do about it.

The Truck Driver Shortage is Not a Recent Problem

In 2019, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) released a Truck Driver Shortage Analysis that discussed a shortage of drivers over the previous 15 years and predicted even more significant shortages in the coming years.

Then the pandemic hit. When people began praising “essential” workers, truck drivers were overlooked. These unsung heroes of commerce have been overlooked for years, but they became even more essential when everyone stayed home.  Demands and pressure increased. The problems linked to the driver shortage escalated.

By 2021, ATA was estimating historic highs in the shortage of drivers. The difference between the number of qualified drivers in the market and the number needed based on freight demand is now headed for unprecedented levels. That puts even more pressure on an already overburdened workforce, and Denver truck accident lawyers know that can tempt trucking companies to cut corners.

Many Factors are Contributing to the Dangerous Driver Shortage

The ATA reports that all sectors of the trucking industry face driver shortages, but the workforce struggle is greatest in the long-haul truckload market. Drivers operating tractor-trailers on these routes face additional challenges that many potential workers cannot overcome and many experienced drivers are no longer willing to put up with.

These include:

  • Lifestyle issues such as time away from home and long hours seated behind the wheel
  • Inability to pass a drug test, particularly in states where marijuana is legal
  • Minimum age requirements for interstate commercial driving
  • Hiring standards involving criminal history and driving records

Additionally, the fewer drivers that are operating face Infrastructure problems that lead to parking shortages and traffic congestion. Drivers log fewer miles as they wait for delays and they have to stop working earlier to find places to take mandatory breaks. That means drivers are less productive.

The demographics of the long-haul driving industry also contribute to the shortage. Women have not been attracted to the field, and they make up only about 7% of the driving pool even though they make up far more than half the labor force overall. The average age of drivers is older than the average age in the U.S. workforce, which means the driver shortage will increase as drivers head into retirement. New regulations, testing requirements, and equipment changes prompted many in the industry to retire early while others switched to less stressful jobs. The bottom line is that the driver shortage is going to get worse before it gets better and this could be a very dangerous trend.

The Push to Lower Standards

Recruiting new drivers is always the goal, but despite wage increases and bonuses, the labor shortage continues to increase. That leaves three other options for handling the shortage of qualified truck drivers. The first option is to reduce the demand. Given the trends in society, this seems an unlikely solution, even if it is the safest.

The other two options involve lowering the standards to enlarge the applicant pool and or adjusting legal practices to get more miles out of the current driver pool. Neither of these options bodes well from a safety perspective.

Many industry professionals advocated for a reduction in the age for interstate commercial drivers to 18. However, these teen drivers have less driving experience of any kind, less life experience handling decision-making and crisis management, and more difficulty evaluating risks. This age group has a much higher crash rate than other age groups. New legislation allowing for younger interstate commercial drivers could soon lead to significantly more truck accidents all over the country. Drivers and passengers of smaller vehicles face the risk of serious injury or death.

Industry forces have also been pushing to relax the standards on rest requirements for drivers. While efforts to reduce the standards have been ongoing for more than a decade, the recent surge in delivery backlogs is renewing the pressure to make the change. Drivers operating without adequate rest have a harder time reacting to conditions on the road, exercise poorer judgment, and even fall asleep behind the wheel.

The Dangers of the Truck Driver Shortage

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, hours-of-service regulations for drivers carrying freight allow for no more than 11 hours of operation before drivers must take a break of 10 consecutive hours. (A 14 hour period is now allowed for drivers on certain routes.) Additional limits apply on a weekly basis. These limits were expanded at the end of 2020 and many in the shipping industry want to further expand the limit to 16 hours or more. 

Truck accident lawyers anticipate that the recent expansion and proposed additional expansion will increase the number of drowsy drivers on the road, and these impaired truck drivers will be handling large heavy machines capable of crushing other cars and trucks with just a slight miscalculation in operation. Drowsy driving can be as dangerous as drunk driving.

Of course, the push to relax the service hour limits is irrelevant for many carriers who are already illegally encouraging drivers to violate limits to meet the high demand. The extended hours also leave less time for maintenance, and overworked drivers are less likely to notice and respond quickly to equipment problems.

Levine Law Helps You Recover

With the dangers of the truck driver shortage expected to continue, drivers are advised to exercise caution at all times. When possible, route trips to restricted roads where trucks are not allowed. Allow additional space between your vehicle and trucks on the road. Avoid driving in a trucker’s blind spot. And always keep alert and avoid distractions that could prevent you from noticing unsafe behavior in a truck nearby. 

When your best efforts at safety fail to prevent a collision, remember that the experienced truck accident lawyers at Levine are on your side and ready to help. Contact us at any time for a free consultation and case evaluation.