The death of the long-haul trucking model: What’s happening, why it’s happening, and alternatives

December 12, 2022 Christina DeBusk

Three trucks by snowy mountain

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that most of the almost two million tractor-trailer truck drivers in the U.S. today are long-haul drivers. Yet, some industry insiders suggest that the long-haul trucking model is dying.

Here are a couple explanations as to why, along with an alternative for businesses that are responsible for transporting goods.

Explanation #1: Truck driver shortage

One of the most noteworthy changes to long-haul driving in recent times is the shortage of drivers. If trends continue as they are, the driver shortage may exceed 160,000—more than double what it is now—according to the American Trucking Associations (ATA).

The ATA explains that the reasons for this shortage are many. For instance, along with pandemic-related quits and a high number of drivers retiring due to age, women are not represented in this industry at rates consistent with the total workforce. This almost eliminates an entire demographic when it comes to filling new positions.

Other factors contributing to the driver shortage include:

  • An inability for prospective drivers to pass a drug test due to many states legalizing marijuana, yet the federal government still considers it illegal
  • Having a minimum age of 21 years for commercial drivers who will cross state lines
  • Infrastructure issues, such a trouble finding places to park overnight and dealing with traffic congestion that limits a driver’s ability to deliver their loads efficiently
  • High hiring standards that many candidates are unable to meet, such as those relating to driving record and criminal history
  • Fewer people enrolling in and completing truck driver training school

Without enough long-haul drivers, this type of delivery model cannot be sustained, especially with the BLS indicating that the industry is expected to grow 6% by 2030. But a driver shortage isn’t the only reason this model may be dying.

Explanation #2: Drivers being replaced by automated trucks

Another notable change within the trucking industry is the emergence of driverless vehicles. A study conducted by researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Michigan reveals that, if this delivery model is employed, it could affect up to 94% of long-haul trucking operation hours.

The way it would work is by using automated trucks for less complex parts of the route, such as on the highways. Then, the automated trucks would enter some type of “transfer hub,” where a human driver would take over and complete the more complex portions of the route (all the roads between the highway and delivery location).

Overall, this could equate to the loss of somewhere between 300,000 and 400,000 long-haul jobs, according to the study, depending on the type of analysis being conducted. Neither scenario is good for companies responsible for transporting goods from one location to the next. But what’s the alternative?

Alternative to long-haul driving

A short haul provider, like Centerline Drivers, is one option to consider. The benefit of a short haul approach is that, because it involves taking the “more complex” routes, these jobs are less at risk of being replaced by automated trucks.

Short haul routes are also more appealing to many new drivers. This is because they don’t have the hassles faced by long-haul drivers, such as those related to being gone for weeks at a time, having to essentially live in their rig, and dealing with poor work-life balance.

Instead, short routes allow drivers to be home every night to spend time with their friends and families. They also provide the comfortability of familiarity as the drivers are likely to be more familiar with local roads and destinations.

If you’re interested in implementing a short haul trucking model or you want to find ways to make your current short-haul model more efficient, contact Centerline today.

About the Author

Christina M. DeBusk creates small business content for a variety of publications, some of which include Businessing Magazine, Compendent, Chiropractic Economics, and more. She is also the author behind the column, "The Successful Solopreneur.

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