People who know me are usually surprised to learn that I have truck driver blood flowing through my veins. Yep, two of my uncles were career truck drivers as well as many of my cousins. I actually drove a 26-foot Ryder rental truck ONCE from New Jersey to Florida to help a friend move. Although I am not really a truck driver, I have a warm spot in my heart for those men and women who help keep the U.S. economy moving by their efforts.
My cousin, Bill Harris, recently visited the Washington D.C. area and we had the chance to chat a bit about the trucking business. He owns a trucking company in Nebraska called “Harris Quality” (you can see the website here: http://www.harrisquality.com/). Bill and I were great friends when we were young; his family lived just a few blocks from us. It had been many years since we had this much time to reminisce about old times, talk about our families and, of course, compare rock concerts we’ve attended.
The trucking business is obviously a cyclical one – more goods are shipped when the economy expands. Yet, even with economic improvement, many truck driver jobs go unfilled. According to a CNN Money report back in July, as many as 200,000 job openings for long haul truckers remain unfilled. I asked Bill why is it so hard to find good drivers. He suggested that it’s really a life style issue. Some drivers will spend several months on the road, living in their trucks, truck stops and cheap motels. The work isn’t necessarily hard, but it can be tedious and balancing this career choice with family life can be a challenge. The pay seems pretty good – with median annual wage of almost $38k, truckers can actually earn about $4k more than the median for all jobs. The top 10% of truck drivers can pull down nearly $60k a year.
One impediment to becoming a trucker is the need for certification. Getting a commercial driver’s license requires a long, maybe as long as eight weeks, training class and can cost about $6,000. Obviously, we all want our truck drivers to be trained, competent and committed to their work. Yet, I wonder if this is an area where politicians concerned about the unemployment rate could help a bit…
The government isn’t always as helpful as it could as it could be. In the name of safety, the government keeps restricting the hours the drivers can be on the road, how much sleep they get and even dictates how often they need to rest. On paper, these rules may make sense, but for the drivers in the trenches, it only makes their already challenging work even more difficult.
Apart from finding and keeping good drivers, I asked Bill what other things he worries about. He said that nearly all of his truck breakdown problems revolve around emission filter technology. Laws passed around 2000 called for a gradual phase out of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emissions from truck diesel engines. These filter systems are costly and complicated, but have reduced NOx pollutants to nearly zero from his trucks. This seemed like a good thing to me (we all like clearer air, right?), but clearly we have all paid for this in one way or another.
At the end of our conversation, I felt better informed about the industry and had many chances to think back about the stories my Uncle Paul and Uncle Jim would tell us as youngsters about their time “on the road.” Thanks to all you hard working truck drivers out there, past and present. Keep on truckin’!