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October 6, 2015 10:00 AM, EDT

Driver Shortage Worsened This Year, ATA Says

Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

The truck driver shortage has worsened in the past year, reaching nearly 48,000 workers by the end of 2015, or about 10,000 more than last year, American Trucking Associations reported.

Over the long term, the trade association projects that the shortage could rise to almost 175,000 drivers, due to industry growth and retirements as the driver population ages. Annual hiring of 890,000 drivers will be needed over the long term, ATA said.

“The ability to find enough qualified drivers is one of our industry’s biggest challenges,” ATA President Bill Graves said. “This latest report plainly lays out the problem — as well as some possible solutions — to the driver shortage.”

Among the steps that could reduce the shortage are pay increases, more at-home time and improving the image of drivers with the general public, ATA said.

ATA found that the 45% of driver hires are done to replace retirees. The second largest reason, at 33%, was for industry growth.

“An important thing we learned in this analysis is that this isn’t strictly a numbers problem, it is a quality problem too,” ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said. “Fleets consistently report receiving applications for open positions, but that many of those candidates do not meet the criteria to be hired. According our research, 88% of carriers said most applicants are not qualified.”

ATA’s study doesn’t estimate the effect of future regulations, such as electronic logging.

“Make no mistake, the driver shortage is a challenge, but it is not an insurmountable one,” Costello said.