The Truck Driver Shortage and Possible Solutions

What is the problem of driver shortage and how we can start to solve this issue?
Hanan Friedman

Hanan Friedman

The international trade of goods and services is a fundamental component of the global economy. According to the global business data platform “Statista”, over 80% of the world’s commodities are transported by sea passing through many ports on the way. Numerous industries are dependent on cargo shipping, especially those that rely on a supply of raw materials.

Hazardous substances such as oil, gas, and products of the chemical industry are often transported great distances by sea, providing the cheapest means for shipping. Actually, the majority of all cargo is conveyed by sea, and many companies choose this mode of transport in order to increase safety as well as to save costs. In 2020, less than 1% of global cargo theft came from shipping vessels.

Efficient port administration requires rapid and large-scale modernization. Operations are significantly slowed down by ship and truck congestion, due to various causes. A port is a facility comprising areas where ships load and discharge cargo (and passengers). The shipping system is complex, while ports serve as hubs for the distribution of freight by all modes of transportation.

In rare case, such as moving raw materials to a production facility, delivery of goods can be carried out from one port to another, without additional transport modes.

It is clear that ports will eventually be automated. However, it should be noted that processes need to be simplified before successful optimization can occur. Major barriers to automation include professional capabilities and experience (technical positions), data quality, siloed operations and more. Automation does not allow solving problems at individual functions.

Breaking down silos between functions is always a challenge, but it is especially difficult for ports that supply the sea/land interface. One of the basic principles of automation is controlling the process, which requires the use of integrated technology for efficient monitoring of traffic and trade flows in the end-to-end terminal process of ports.

A paper published by the Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA – an independent organization promoting digitally interconnected container shipping) notes the need for a transition from paper-heavy trade transactions to electronic billing. Use of a digital bill of lading (BL – shipment receipt) could result in potential savings of $4 billion per year if only 50% of the shipping industry would adopt the technology.

An OECD report states that global container handling in ports would rise to four times the current levels by 2030, if ports were smart and automated.

Attempts to create an electronic bill of lading (eBL) began in the late 1990s and now more than 20 years later the issue is back on the agenda. It has been called the “Holy Grail of global trade”, referring to a treasure with miraculous powers; however the many obstacles on the way have prevented implementation of the technology.

  • How do we connect the ship with road transport?

The transition to an optimized process of connecting sea freight to road transport will take some time. We would like to offer some suggestions: 

Short-term optimization of sea freight transport – Multimodal transport involves the use of more than one type of haulage. The best option today is container shipping, where we can combine sea, rail and land transport. This is the easiest way since container shipping companies provide the vehicles, organize the loading in point A and the unloading in point B, while tracking the process. Today, there are companies developing the use of shared shipping containers, allowing different companies to place their cargo in one container in order to get a full load. 

Long-term – The concept of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR or Industry 4.0) relates to the ongoing automation of traditional industrial practices using modern smart technology. True optimization of port administration, Port 4.0, is considered to be part of this future 4IR. A smart digitalized port will include the use of innovative technologies to increase efficiency and improve performance, ensure security and cyber-security as well as reduce harmful emissions.

  • Which technologies can help us create smart ports?

Big Data has many uses for logistics in the maritime shipping industry, and one of the most important applications is predicting the estimated time of arrival (ETA) of vessels. Different sources (sensors, texts, audios, videos) of information are needed to track ships and cargo, while big data is used to manage ship sensors and for predictive analysis.

Artificial Intelligence (AI), and more specifically machine learning (ML), can be used to enhance shipping routes by determining the best course at the best speed. For optimization and efficiency of the shipping industry, decision-making automation can forecast and optimize performance by reducing human error and accidents, and in addition increase work safety and security.

Internet of Things (IoT) enables real-time tracking and monitoring of cargo at all levels by Port Authorities. It is used to determine location and to identify in detail what each ship is carrying by using sensors.

Blockchain was addressed in one of our previous blogs. This innovative technology stores transaction data which is impossible to change or delete. It provides an open platform paperwork-free system.

These above-mentioned technologies are powerful tools for the shipping industry and enable actions to be carried out rapidly, such as unloading cargo at the port. Port congestion is reduced, resources are saved and there is less damage to the environment. 

New ideas are on the table for ship owners. For example, digital twin models will provide a tool for visualization of ship and subsystems, qualification and analytics of operational data, optimization of ship performance, improved internal and external communication, and safe handling of increased levels of autonomy.

We at Trucknet support the idea of creating an ecosystem, where smart vehicles are combined with virtual processes in the digital world. The concept of integration and connection between all systems and processes only can be achieved with maximum transparency and connectivity. In a world of digitalization and sharing economy, business efficiency will be improved and environmental concerns can be addressed.

“Digitalization is a path, not a journey; Digitalization is not all about technology, it is an intersection of technology, innovation and processes – all equally important” 

– Mark O’Neil, Columbia Marlow

The Truck Driver Shortage and Possible Solutions

27 February 2022

Hanan Friedman photo

Hanan Friedman

Founder and President

The role of truck drivers is an essential element of the cargo supply chain throughout the world. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic we have become more aware of the indispensable part they play in the movement of essential goods. Truck drivers are also called OTR drivers (over-the-road), or long-haul truckers, and they actually transport more than 70% of all domestic freight shipments. 

This dangerous job requires much responsibility and patience. The conditions of a trucker’s life can vary from country to country as well as from cargo company to company. Over-the-road truck drivers haul freight long distances and have the strictest requirements, as they must abide by regulations for limited hours of service. Local truckers are bound by some service regulations as well, and they may have even stricter company rules.

Since the beginning of the pandemic their role and contributions have become more and more recognized. Drivers risk their health to keep the supply chains running so that food and medicine can be transported on time. Moreover, online shopping has increased by 20% (in some countries by 40%!) which has intensified the volume of drivers’ work.

The American Trucking Associations came out with a study in 2020, “Critical issues in the trucking industry”, and the first problem on the list was “driver shortage”, followed by “driver compensation” and “truck parking”. The title of this blog could also be “the number one issue in the logistics industry” according to the numbers we cite below.

How was the problem of driver shortage created?

In the United States (US) there are 3.5 million truck drivers, 15.5 million trucks (over 15 tons, class 8) and 433 billion miles driven per year. If the current situation holds, by 2023 there will be a shortage of 240,000 drivers. The shortage has become acute due to a few factors:

*The high average driver age of 55 years old (EU figures are similar)

*Composition of the workforce: only 5.8% are women, compared to 47% of the entire US workforce

*Job alternatives that offer a safer lifestyle and the opportunity to return home each night (new drivers are often assigned long-haul routes and they are away from home for long periods)

*New regulations that require more qualified drivers, therefore employers are becoming more selective.

The United Kingdom’s (UK) Road Haulage Association (RHA) reports that the UK must deal with a shortage of 100,000 drivers as a result of workers leaving the industry, Brexit and COVID-19, all of which stopped the driver trainings and tests for about a year. To solve this problem the British government plans to hire foreign employees with short-term visas. However, the question remains if they will be able to attract people for short employment periods.

The estimated shortage in Poland is 120,000 drivers, while in Germany and France it is over 40,000. Transport Intelligence, offering market research solutions to the global logistics industry, reports that there is a lack of 400,000 heavy vehicle drivers throughout Europe. 

How many hours can truck drivers work?

Under European law, any driver operating a 12 ton or higher vehicle is subject to the laws which limit driving to 9 hours per day, 56 per week, and 90 over a two-week period. Twice a week driving time can be extended to 10 hours, while the daily rest period is at least 12 hours. The daily rest can be split into 3 hours followed by 9 hours to make a total of a 12-hour daily rest. Breaks of at least 45 minutes (can be divided into 15 minutes followed by 30 minutes) should be taken after 4.5 hours of work at the most. The average annual salary for an experienced driver is €42495.

US laws are not as strict as the EU and actually make the driver’s life harder: after 10 hours of rest, the trucker is allowed to drive for 11 hours for a total of 14 hours of work. The mandatory break is 30 minutes after 8 hours, from the time of coming on duty. Drivers may work no more than 60 hours on-duty over seven consecutive days or 70 hours over 8 days. The average annual wage is $47000 (€40600).

Truck driver safety

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 843 truckers were killed in 2019, and the number is increasing every year making this the deadliest occupation. Drivers are often forced to park in undesignated areas in unsafe locations due to a number of reasons such as personal mandatory breaks, cargo/vehicle inspections, truck stops and rest areas that are full. 5.3% of all fatal truck accidents are caused by unsafe stops/parking. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), each year 100,000 accidents involving trucks are caused by drowsy truck drivers or drivers who have altogether fallen asleep at the wheel.  

Complications for truck drivers due to the pandemic

With the increase of deliveries during the pandemic, the demand for drivers has also increased. However, at the same time, many countries closed access to highway facilities thereby making it very difficult for truck drivers. For example, toilets have been closed at load and unload points; and there are long lines for the showers at petrol stations which are not being properly cleaned, causing potential health hazards.

How can technologies provide better conditions?

For us at Trucknet, everything is about technology. We believe in a one-stop platform, where not only big carriers and shipping companies can find benefits, but drivers as well. Below are some of the features that we take into consideration:

Work management optimization and reducing empty miles

Some of the less obvious solutions for the driver shortage could possibly be found through the optimization of fleet management and the reduction of empty miles (deadhead miles) traveled (see our last blog). Loading trucks to full capacity reduces the problem of unnecessary empty miles, and also means less trucks on the road; therefore, fewer drivers will be required.     Shared truckloads are more efficient than trucks driving half empty, saving costs as well as human resources.

Self-driving vehicles are expected to assist in reducing driver shortage while improving road safety and fuel efficiency. By solving the human resources problem, we are thinking ahead: reducing costs and decreasing environmental problems.

Optimize bookings and increase parking capacity

In Europe and the US there is a serious problem of finding parking areas for trucks. As mentioned, European regulations require drivers to stop for 45 minutes after 4.5 hours of work. This means the driver will need to start looking for a place to park ahead of time. 83% of European drivers report that there is an insufficient number of safe parking areas.

The US Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) reports that almost 100% of truckers claim that finding parking is problematic anytime. This can result in an absurd situation in which truckers are forced to park in prohibited areas and have to pay fines for lack of adequate parking infrastructure. Jason’s Law, established in the US to address the severe shortage of safe truck parking throughout the states, was named in honor of the trucker Jason Rivenburg, who was shot and killed in 2009 while he was parked in an unauthorized location. He was unable to find a safe and designated area.

Safe parking spots are unquestionably necessary to protect drivers and prevent threats to their security and cargo. Among all modes of transport, freight theft is highest on the roads. In 2020, 71% of all cargo theft was carried out on trucks in transit from hijacking and/or theft of containers, vehicles, facilities.

Improving the amount of parking space itself will not solve the problem. The US and Europe both require technologies for databases and for booking safe and secure parking that will be convenient for truckers, transportation companies and facilities.

The optimization of fleet management requires integration with a truck parking booking system. The moment a delivery route is created, the driver already has a designated place to take a break according to his working hours and if he needs an overnight, this site will be booked as well. In this manner, we create safer working conditions for truckers. The parking booking component needs to be integrated into a smart platform, like Trucknet. This feature is under development and should be ready for use in the near future.

Reduce detention time

When shipments are not ready to be loaded, truck drivers are delayed and forced to wait for freight. This increases the driver’s frustration and at the same time adds costs for the time lost. Smart technology would schedule the pickup/unload times and reduce detention time in warehouses. 

Conclusion

The COVID pandemic has reminded us specifically how much our lives depend on truckers and supply chains. Even with innovative technologies on the rise, it will take some time for self-driving vehicles to replace truck drivers (one of our past blogs was about autonomous vehicles). Meanwhile, we are confident that the suggestions mentioned above can provide some solutions and contribute to a more sustainable global economy.

 

We give a lot of attention to airplane pilots. Once the truck drivers were “Knights of the Road” and I believe we need to give respect to the people that are working that hard and play a huge role in the lifeline of the economy. After all, they are the ones who give essential service to our doorstep.