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  April 11th, 2018 | Written by

Driver Shortage Affecting US Trucking Industry

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  • VR training can help to provide the new commercial vehicle operators needed over the next decade.
  • Shippers grappling with an unusually tight trucking market are paying the steepest prices in years.
  • In January, just one truck was available for every 12 loads needing to be shipped.

According to a report from the American Trucking Associations (ATA), the trucking industry—responsible for transporting more than 70 percent of goods consumed in the US—faces a serious shortage of drivers, with a need to hire nearly 900,000 new operators over the next decade just to maintain the current workforce. In addition to the sheer lack of drivers, says the American Trucking Associations (ATA), fleets are suffering from a dwindling supply of qualified new drivers, compounding the industry’s difficulties.

“Part of the problem is generational,” says John Kearney, CEO of Advanced Training Systems, a leading designer and manufacturer of virtual simulators. “Figures from the American Transportation Research Institute how that one in four of today’s drivers are 55 years of age or older. The industry needs to recruit younger drivers, and doing that will require the kind of high-tech, high-quality training that younger candidates expect.”

The stakes are high—not just for the trucking industry, but for the economy as a whole—in the race to find and qualify new drivers. Retailers and manufacturers grappling with an unusually tight trucking market are paying the steepest prices in years to keep their goods moving. By early January, just one truck was available for every 12 loads needing to be shipped, the most unbalanced market since October 2005, just after Hurricane Katrina. According to online freight marketplace DAT Solutions LLC, the cost to hire the most common type of big rig had shot up to $2.11 per mile, including a fuel surcharge, a 3.5-year high.

A key element both in attracting younger candidates and producing safe, road-ready drivers, notes Kearney, is the growing use of simulator training as an adjunct to traditional behind-the-wheel (BTW) instruction. Just as in military and airline pilot training, the use of a simulator can teach the proper response to events too rare or too dangerous to be included in BTW instruction—for example, a steering tire blowout or an unexpected patch of black ice.

Simulators have also proven themselves valuable in teaching more everyday trucking skills. A recent study has found that driving simulators can be as effective as a live teacher in training truck drivers for tasks such as backing and shifting gears. Simulator training also offers benefits from a cost-effectiveness perspective; one major trucking and logistics company reports a savings of $40/hr in fuel costs alone.

“As in practically every area of digital technology today, rapid improvements are being made in driver training simulators,” says Kearney. “At Advanced Training Systems, we have developed hyper-realistic, 360-degree virtual reality-based programs that combine realistic feedback and sensation, instantly interactive training, stress management and motion simulation to produce a ‘real’ driving experience—while all but eliminating the motion sickness common with other simulators.”

Trucking is a well-paid occupation in urgent need of a new generation of well-trained and motivated drivers, and it’s also an essential component of today’s economy.

ATS’ mission is to bring together an opportunity and a rising workforce and, through technology and in partnership with fleet and driving-school clients, help to ensure a safe and prosperous future for American commerce and the drivers who serve it.