For several decades, there have been reports that the US trucking sector may be dealing with a constant problem: shortages of truck drivers.
However, these reports have since been dismissed by various organizations, including the American Truckers Association, which maintains that the problem isn't a lack of enough truck drivers to meet the demand and supply of hauling liquid gas and consumer goods across the country.
Instead - the organization argues- it's the lack of sustainable pay and policies to safeguard the interests of truck drivers that make the job unattractive to prospective job seekers. However, there are other factors coupled with recent devastating occurrences in the energy and trucking industries that may well be considered as the main catalysts for the now apparent shortage of truck drivers in the country.
Let's explore these factors to establish if the truck driver shortage indeed impacted fuel supply.
In early May 2021, a ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline, America's most prominent fuel pipeline operator by Eastern European web gang DarkSide, caused the company to temporarily shut down, resulting in massive disruption and a hike in fuel prices. Eventually, the company paid $5 million to the hackers to end the attack on its networks. But by then, the cyberattack had already left a devastating impact on fuel prices.
Colonial Pipeline ferries nearly half of the diesel, gasoline, and other fuels across the East Coast. The attack on the company confirmed the glaring reality of the vulnerability of industrial infrastructure and how such attacks further impact the supply chain, consumer spending and by extension, the economy.
By mid-May 2021, gas prices were as high as $3.60 to $4.00 per gallon, up from $.2.50. As the company remained closed and supply-demand increased, which deeply affected trucking companies, independent truck drivers, and consumers.
But the cyberattack combined with a pandemic-weakened economy has further affected the industry's workforce.
For instance, truck drivers are among the essential workers that had to work as the pandemic raged, which is no surprise really, considering how valuable the trucking industry is to the economy.
That's when the country realized how it could not function without truck drivers who were needed to deliver liquid tanks, hand sanitizers, toiletries, detergents, masks and other consumer goods needed to fight the virus. Now everyone understands how the supply chain works and appreciates the role played by truckers. Despite all this, reports on truck driver shortages have intensified more than ever. Here why:
Aging workforce: The average age for a truck driver in the United States is 55 years. Add to the fact that truckers were listed as essential workers, and the majority of them could not work under the prevailing circumstances owing to underlying health conditions. As such, most choose early retirement rather than take the risk.
Prolonged recession: In the wake of nationwide lockdown, school buses were suspended, public transport was restricted, and most sectors of the economy were shut down. Most drivers opted to pursue other careers in different industries as the effects of the pandemic continued.
Lack of qualified drivers: The federal legal age for truck drivers is 21. This law prevents most people from joining the industry right after finishing high school. By 21, most high school graduates would be furthering their studies in colleges and universities, with little consideration for taking up a trucking job. This, together with the lack of qualified drivers, has contributed to a shortage of truck drivers.
From the above factors, you can see that the shortage of truck drivers alone hasn't impacted fuel supply. If anything, fuel supply may be curtailed by other factors far more serious than a diminished workforce.
Otherwise, the American Truckers Association argues that implementation of better policies that safeguards the rights of drivers, better remuneration packages, new driver safety guidelines, and flexible working hours are what the federal government, Department of Energy, Department of Transport, and the trucking industry need to focus on to address this challenge and make trucking job more attractive.
This will in turn boost fuel supply even as the government focuses on other areas of concern such as cybersecurity and dealing with the coronavirus. Contact us for more information.