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Truck Drivers: A Vital Link in Our Economy

Mike Roeth

Executive Director, North American Council for Freight Efficiency

Every day, millions of commercial truck drivers take the wheel to deliver all the goods we need to work and live. What does it take to get the job done?

Last year in the United States, trucks transported more than $670 billion worth of manufactured and retail goods. In fact, trucks deliver more than 70 percent of the nation’s freight every year. Seeing that the goods get to their final destinations are 3.5 million truck drivers. These men and women drive through a variety of weather conditions, types of terrain, construction zones, and traffic so we can get our televisions, snack food, furniture, clothing, etc. You name it — it probably spent some time on a truck.

Trucking into the future

Today’s heavy-duty trucks are engineering marvels equipped with all kinds of technology designed to make drivers’ jobs easier. But even though trucks are becoming more and more technologically advanced, the reality is that drivers still play a key role in operating them safely and efficiently.

Currently, the trucking industry is in the midst of a driver shortage, and according to recent data from the American Trucking Associations (ATA), the shortage is at the highest level ever. The ATA predicts that if something does not change, the industry will be short 100,000 drivers in five years and 160,000 drivers by 2028. The decreasing interest in truck driving as a career is, as some have cited, largely due to the amount of time spent away from family, the high level of regulation, a lack of respect for the profession, the difficulty of living out of a truck, and severe driving conditions themselves, including weather, road conditions, and traffic.

Back to home base

The industry has reacted to this shortage in a number of ways. One way is by attempting to get drivers home more frequently. In typical long haul, over-the-road trucking, drivers can be away from home for weeks at a time. Regional haul operations, on the other hand, mitigate that problem, allowing for more regular stops home. In its report, More Regional Haul: An Opportunity For Trucking, the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) defines “regional haul” as a truck that operates within a 300-mile radius of its home base. This may include trucks that return to home base every night, or trucks on a route for multiple days but one where the driver gets home at least once a week. The move towards regional haul operations, driven in part by the growth of e-commerce, helps attract and retain drivers who are looking for more at home time and less time sleeping in their trucks.

Automation in the auto industry

Driving a truck is a physically taxing job and, in fact, is one of the top 10 most dangerous jobs in America. While the auto industry is moving toward more automated vehicles, it will still be a very long time before there is a truck on the road without a human driver behind the wheel. Today, drivers are key to operating some of the advanced technologies that are already on trucks, including automated powertrains, advanced cruise control, safety technologies (e.g. lane departure warning, collision mitigation, cameras), etc.

What it takes to drive

Truck drivers are vital to our economy, and not just anyone can hop behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler and operate it safely and efficiently — truck drivers have to be trained, certified, and licensed. Every year, a range of fleets and organizations honor drivers who have achieved 1 million accident-free miles of driving. How many automobile drivers can boast an achievement like that?

Being a good truck driver involves more than being safe, though. To be of real value to a fleet, a good driver must prioritize and assist in fuel efficiency. Even with all the driver-assist technology on a truck today, a driver can influence fuel economy by as much as 30 percent. The impact of the driver was proven during NACFE’s Run on Less roadshow in 2017, when seven drivers delivering real freight over real routes achieved an average fuel economy of 10.1 miles per gallon, which is well above the national average of 5.91 miles per gallon.

Glad for the goods

Truck drivers hit the road every day to make sure we have the things we need for our everyday lives. During National Truck Driver Appreciation Week this year, September 8-14, we take time to honor all professional truck drivers for their hard work and commitment. They reality is we probably need to be thanking truck drivers more than once a year. After all, without them, our homes, offices, churches, and malls would be empty.

This fall, NACFE is presenting Run on Less Regional, in which 10 of the best drivers in regional haul operations will showcase their skills. Follow the Run to show your support and appreciation for these talented drivers.

Mike Roeth, Executive Director, North American Council for Freight Efficiency, [email protected]

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