As supply chain struggles continue to make the news, Congress is, at last, thinking a little more intently about the driver shortage that is plaguing the trucking industry. Many people see two possible solutions to the problem:

  1. Find, train, and hire new drivers; and/or
  2. Find new efficiencies to accomplish more with less.

While both need to be part of the ultimate solution, getting more from our shipping and receiving partners is a key component to any solution.

Last month, a Congressional hearing on the topic made headlines when MIT’s Dr. David Correll presented research showing that the over-the-road drivers average only 6.5 hours of driving per day. He theorized that if we could squeeze an additional 18 minutes of driving out of each driver per day, the driver shortage would be eliminated. Some are looking to technology to solve the problem. AI Fleet, a new “technology enabled” trucking company is fighting driver turnover by getting drivers more of what they want most: miles. Their technology automates back-office functions and focuses on load matching to ensure drivers are not waiting around for their next load. They brag that its average drivers earn six figure salaries by keeping their wheels turning.

While STC is impressed with how the industry innovates to solve tough problems, it also thinks it’s time to stop treating the symptom and start focusing on the problem.

For years an ultra-competitive trucking industry has been at the mercy of shippers and receivers. Drivers were forced to violate HOS rules to meet tight delivery windows after waiting for hours to load. The tables began to turn when FMCSA required all drivers to use an electronic logging device to monitor driving time, instantly making it far more difficult to cheat. Shippers were forced to reckon with more realistic expectations.

Sadly, instead of using this new leverage to demand higher rates and achievable transit times, carriers, under pressure from shippers, asked FMCSA for more “flexibility,” which they provided. Now shippers are asking for their flexibility back and drivers are still waiting for their loads. Many argue that the driver shortage issue comes down to dollars and cents. More miles equals higher driver pay, which results in better driver recruitment and retention. This may be true, but it’s time to stop looking for more miles in the hours-of-service rules and start pressuring the rest of the supply chain to pick up the slack.