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Truckers call for better highway funding

The highway system is essential for trucks to deliver goods.
/ Industry News & Trends /

By: Phil Sneed

The American Trucking Associations President and CEO Bill Graves made an appearance June 17, before members of the House Ways and Means Committee. In a sworn testimony, Graves said elected officials must act quickly to secure funding for the Highway Trust Fund.

According to Graves, the highway system is essential to the American economy. To illustrate his point, he told officials that interstate gridlock in 2013 cost the trucking industry nearly $9.2 billion. This amounted to an estimated 141 million hours wasted sitting in slow moving traffic.

"Congress' actions have real consequences, and the decisions this Committee makes will determine whether a business succeeds or fails and whether a job is created or eliminated," Graves said in the hearing.

Graves invoked strong talking points because the trucking industry is important to the economy. However, there is still a driver shortage that may worsen if Congress does not take action.

Industry continues to grow
According to statistics released by Sageworks​, a financial information company, general freight trucking is outpacing growth in every other small-business industry. In a 12 month span, general freight grew by about 25 percent, which was the fastest growing small business. Specialty freighting, such as reefers and tankers, saw a 16.3 percent growth, good for the fourth fastest growth. This translated to approximately a 25 percent increase in sales. Recently, DAT Solutions revealed Texas has surpassed California as the number one market for temperature controlled trucking. 

"A lot of growth in trucking initially after the recession was related to oil and oil production, but even as some of the production has tapered down and oil prices have dropped, growth among small businesses in the industry still remains high," said Sageworks analyst Chuck Nwokocha in the financial statement analysis highlighted by Forbes.

Yet, in spite of the good news, truckers still face some difficult circumstances while behind the wheel.

Demand for drivers
According to an opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times, journalist and author Larry Kahaner voiced his concern for truck drivers and said the industry cannot find enough people to haul items over long distances. The ATA said the industry is currently short 250,000 drivers. The organization cited regulations and other factors contributing to the the lack of drivers. Specifically, some are calling for better monitoring of drivers to prevent them from being behind the wheel while fatigued. This may not be needed, because truckers generally know when to pull in a rest stop. The Wall Street Journal reported that drivers have quit because of caps on the number of miles driven, for instances.

According to Fortune contributor David Morris, some truckers have voiced their concerns through online forums and worried about an invasion of privacy caused by hours-of-service monitoring.

Driver's pay also examined
Driver shortages are most noticeable in long-haul operations, Kahaner wrote, but are low numbers are starting to be seen at regional and shorter haul movements. Kahaner added the shipping and rail industries are also affected because they often rely on trucks to deliver freight to the final destination.

Kahaner​ said that regulations limiting the number of hours truckers spend behind the wheel have a noticeable effect on the industry because they force drivers to interrupt their deliveries. Instead of delivering goods, drivers may find themselves idling in their trucks.

This is harmful, as drivers are retiring because they simply cannot meet the demands of the job. Drivers are already older than the average U.S. working population by about eight years, and not enough younger workers are filling the openings.

Truckers are the lifeblood of the U.S. economy, as they transport large amounts of goods. Yet, they need suitable roads to deliver goods on time.