Cristina Commendatore/FleetOwner
From left, ATRI President and COO Rebecca Brewster; Idelic founder and CEO Hayden Cardiff; Bill Hambrick, professional driver with Werner Enterprises and America’s Road Team Captain; and Hugh Ekberg, president and CEO of CRST International, reveal ATRI's top industry issues list for 2021.

Driver shortage tops ATRI’s 2021 trucking issues list

Oct. 26, 2021
For the fifth consecutive year, the driver shortage topped the American Transportation Research Institute’s top 10 overall industry concerns. And for the first time, the shortage of diesel technicians made the top 10 list.

Nashville—For the fifth consecutive year, the driver shortage topped the American Transportation Research Institute’s (ATRI) top 10 overall industry concerns. The complete results of the annual survey were released as part of the 2021 American Trucking Associations’ Management Conference & Exhibition here in Nashville.

This year marks ATRI’s 17th annual Top Industry Issues report. This year’s top 10 issues are: the driver shortage, driver retention, driver compensation, lawsuit abuse reform, truck parking, CSA, detention time, infrastructure funding, insurance cost and availability, and for the first time, the shortage of diesel technicians.

Further underscoring the industry’s workforce challenges, the diesel technician shortage ranked No. 10 this year and is viewed by some in trucking as becoming as severe over time as the driver shortage, according to ATRI.

More than 2,500 trucking industry stakeholders participated in this year’s survey, including motor carriers, drivers, industry suppliers, driver trainers, law enforcement, and others. Nearly 25% of the survey respondents were professional truck drivers and, among driver respondents, driver compensation and truck parking tied for the top industry concern. Detention/delay at customer facilities was ranked by drivers as their second most pressing concern.

“It really is no surprise that truck driver-related issues—notably the driver shortage and driver retention—ranked so high on the survey. Coming out of the pandemic, with the increased demand for goods and other pressures on the supply chain, getting and keeping drivers has been a real challenge industrywide,” ATRI President and COO Rebecca Brewster said. “We also see the impacts of the current supply chain crunch in how highly issues like driver compensation, truck parking, infrastructure, and driver detention ranked on the list.”

As part of its analysis, ATRI also tracks the emerging topics that generate significant industry interest but fall just outside of the top 10 concerns. For the third year in a row, driver distraction fell just outside the top 10 as the 11th ranked issue.

The price of fuel, ranked 12th this year, was the top ranked issue in the inaugural Top Industry Issues Survey in 2005, shortly after Hurricane Katrina affected fuel supply in the Gulf and drove prices up substantially. Fuel stayed on the industry’s top 10 list until it dropped off in 2014. After a pandemic-induced drop in fuel demand in 2020, and therefore prices, 2021 has seen a steady increase in fuel prices, ATRI pointed out. Fuel prices now rank No. 1 industry concern as ranked by owner-operator respondents in this year’s survey.

The collective industry angst over inflation, supply chain disruptions, workforce challenges, and uncertainty over lingering or long-term impacts from the pandemic are likely combining to make the nation’s economy the third of the emerging issues this year, ranking 13th overall, according to ATRI’s survey.

Carrier vs. driver rankings

The Top Industry Issues report also details the results of the overall industry survey of trucking industry stakeholders, including employee drivers and owner-operators, motor carrier executives, and others. However, each of the stakeholder groups surveyed have different levels of involvement in—and perspectives on—how these topics impact them.

To account for the differing perspectives in the survey sample, ATRI provides a separate analysis to juxtapose how commercial drivers and motor carriers rank the issues.

For the first time ever, the ranking of issues resulted in a tie for the top concerns ranked by commercial drivers. Driver compensation and truck parking generated the same level of concern by driver respondents. Detention/delay at customer facilities ranked second.

ATRI’s full report is available to download. Flip through the slideshow for more information and comments on this year’s top 10 industry rankings. 

This article originally appeared on FleetOwner. 
About the Author

Cristina Commendatore

Cristina Commendatore is the Executive Editor of FleetOwner magazine. She has reported on the transportation industry since 2015, covering topics such as business operational challenges, driver and technician shortages, truck safety, and new vehicle technologies. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn.