Updated: Sep 21, 2021
Throughout 2020 and 2021, it has been common to pull up to order at a fast-food restaurant only to notice a piece of paper hanging on the speaker: "We are out of the following items..." or go to the grocery store and notice completely empty shelves. The 'Out-of-Stock' trend is almost always due to late shipments caused by the scarcity of truck drivers and a fragile, dwindling supply chain.
While the supply chain has suffered significantly since the beginning of Covid, the lack of drivers is nothing new as there has been a driver shortage for decades. The following report by the American Trucking Association documented in 2005, that there was a driver shortage of about 20,000 drivers. In 2018, the shortage was nearly 60,000 drivers, and forecasts into 2028 estimate that there will be a shortage of 160,000 drivers.
Recently, there have been some major policy changes that will affect the trucking industry on a grand scale: a new vaccine mandate announced by President Biden and new drug testing policies that have been in the works for years.
The Vaccine Mandate
There are two things you need to know about truck drivers: They're typically pretty conservative and they don't like being told what to do. Enter: President Biden. There's obviously a massive divide between the vaccinated and the anti-vaxxers as we battle Covid and its variants. President Biden has recently announced a vaccine mandate that will affect employers with over 100 employees which will greatly affect the trucking industry. There is a massive uproar from the trucking community as they don't want to be vaccinated. The following poll illustrates the sentiment of truckers:
This is extremely troublesome as roughly 45% of drivers will quit their current job if mandated to be vaccinated. While there will be many that will try to work for a smaller trucking outfit or own their own truck, many will just leave the industry causing a massive shortage of drivers.
New Drug Testing Policies
Over the years, the trucking industry has been good about drug testing employees by means of urinalysis or "piss tests" for pre-employment, post-accident, and even random drug screens. However, these tests are easy to cheat and allow drug-abusing drivers to remain on the road. Don't worry, the overseers of the trucking industry are well aware of this. That's why the industry is moving toward hair follicle testing for drug screening which is extremely challenging, if not impossible to cheat on, and is capable of finding repeat drug use up to 6 months versus a few weeks with a urinalysis. The following figures illustrate the effect on the industry this will have:
"Because of problems with drivers being able to cheat urine testing, some motor carriers, including Schneider, Knight-Swift Transportation, J.B. Hunt Transport, Werner Enterprises, and Maverick, use more stringent hair drug tests, the Trucking Alliance last year conducted a study comparing pass/fail rates for urine and hair drug screens. Using 151,662 paired pre-employment urine and hair drug test results from 15 different trucking companies, their results indicated that 949 (0.6%) applicants failed the urine test while 12,824 (8.5%) failed or refused the hair test" -Doug Voss and Joe Cangelosi at the University of Central Arkansas
With the new hair follicle screening, it is estimated that 300,000 drivers may lose their jobs which will only cripple the driver supply greater and prevent more drivers from entering the industry. This article from TruckingInfo.com contains the same study quoted above with a better synopsis of drug testing policies in the trucking industry.
An Already Tainted Industry
The trucking industry is already struggling to keep people on board. For long-haul drivers, it's a tough lifestyle that has a high turnover rate: 90%. That means 9 out of 10 drivers leave their job in the first year. Poor pay and home time are making this job highly undesirable for many and impossible for those with families. On top of that, living in a truck for weeks at a time leads to poor mental health. According to a study by the National Institute of Health, the findings show that 44% of LHTDs (Long-Haul Truck Drivers) reported symptoms of depression in the past 12 months. Severe work-related stress, the use of psychiatric medications, and broken sleep were significant predictors of depressive symptomology accounting for 41% of the variance. The findings suggest that LHTDs experience a host of occupational stressors that are embedded within the transportation industry that may increase the risk for depressive symptoms.
The Holiday Season: Greater Demand, Less Supply
The holiday season is among us. Covid waves compounded with massive driver losses will likely result in empty store shelves, higher prices, and battles to get the last HoneyBaked ham. The highest levels of demand will meet the lowest levels of supply which will result in chaos. It is highly recommended that if you want to have your typical holiday that you purchase much further in advance than last year as last-minute shopping might not be feasible.
Nearly 70% of all merchandise in the United States is transported by truck and trailer, and a broken supply chain will result in a major economical collapse. Be smart and prepare for the worst-case scenario as you never know when it will occur. As time goes on, technology will help relieve supply chain struggles by means of autonomous vehicles but we are years from that becoming a practical reality. The ultimate solution would be to reduce consumerism and kill the demand for goods. Our country, however, thrives on consumerism and materialism with high expectations for free 2-day shipping. This problem will only grow in the near future. Stay stocked, my friends.