Though the amount of freight being shipped by truck in the U.S. is up, there aren't enough drivers to meet the demand.
The trucking industry has faced two driver shortages: quality and quantity. In recent years, concerns over quality have come first, with regulators scoring truck drivers and the companies they work for. Get a low score and a pink slip isn't far behind.
"That's not necessarily a bad thing,” says Bob Costello of the American Trucking Association. “We want the best people out there driving a truck. No doubt about it. But it does make some operational challenges. And finding qualified drivers is one of them."
The recent economic recession kept the shortage of quality drivers from disrupting the flow of goods, because there were fewer goods to haul. But demand has increased — as has concern over quantity, especially in Texas.
Audio: Ben Philpott's story for KUT News
"It would impact all ports,” says John Esparza of the Texas Motor Transportation Association. “It would impact all sectors across the state."
With goods coming to Gulf Coast ports and leaving the state's many oil refineries, Texas needs more truckers to get everything to the rest of the country.
And there's one more factor that could make that even harder: This fall, the government is considering new regulations that would limit the number of hours a driver can work. But as Costello points out, limiting hours doesn't limit a payload or how quickly it needs to be delivered.
"We will need 5 to 7 percent more trucks and drivers to haul the same amount of freight,” Costello says. “So, yes, that would exacerbate the shortage."
As for trucking jobs, the law of supply and demand may not be filling the trucker void: It about six to eight weeks to complete a trucking course, plus the cost of tuition.
But there are rewards, Esparza says. "If you're a young man or women in this day and age and you're a qualified driver, your salary is getting ready to increase, because you're going to be a free agent,” he says. “You are a hot commodity."
National and state trucking associations say the proposed federal restrictions won't actually improve driver safety. The groups hope to convince the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration before it releases its final ruling in October.