Driver Shortage Struggles Across Transportation Industry Affecting Everyone

Written by Jesse Butler, Driver Recruiter at Decker Truck Line

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average pay for a tractor trailer truck driver was $42,480 in 2017. The demand for drivers does not seem to be going away. In fact, according to BLS, the expected need for tractor trailer truck drivers is increasing at an average of 6%. However, the average age of a T/T truck driver is 55 years old and the number of NEW drivers is slow to make up the difference between those retiring and the increased shipping demands.

Like many hard working, hands on occupations, OTR tractor trailer truck drivers must be at the top of their game all the time. They MUST be alert, aware of their surroundings and not just in control of their own skills, but also cautious of other drivers on the road. They have to play defense  100% of the time. Watching out for pedestrians not paying attention because they are watching someone else or playing on their phone. Watching for animals (deer, dogs, elk etc) running out onto the road, not knowing it could mean their demise. Aware of motorcyclists, 4 wheeled vehicles, other T/T and commercial vehicles using the same roadway but not necessarily following the same driving standards.

OTR T/T truck drivers are expected to do a lot. But yet, in today’s world, some think they can be replaced by robotics. We will see.

For now, we rely HEAVILY (pun intended) on our tractor trailer truck drivers. EVERYTHING you purchase, at one point in its life has been on the back of a T/T. Whether it’s food, clothing, vehicles, computers or that precious phone you are holding in your hand. A truck driver hauled it.

Missoula, Montana Terminal

Do you remember when you were younger, when someone talked about a truck driver, you immediately thought of this unsung hero who would help you change a tire if you were stranded, would give you a lift if your vehicle broke down and you had 10, 15, 50 miles to the next town? Do you remember getting all excited when you saw a T/T coming down the road so you could pump your arm in hopes they would see your ridiculous request to hear them blast their horn and say “hello”?  I remember that! I remember thinking, truck drivers are hard working, happy people.

I can’t say I sing the same tune now. Not because I don’t think they are still hard working guys willing to lend a helping hand to those who need it, like Decker Truck Line’s Bill Nettle who saved a little piglet from an ugly fate along Hwy 20 or Decker’s Michael Massey who helped Marshalltown tornado victims pick themselves and their belongings back up while waiting for his weather related delayed appointment. No, that’s not why I don’t look at truck drivers the same way.

It’s the frustrated and discouraged look I see on their faces instead of the happy carefree demeanor.

After spending over 12 years as a driver recruiting, I’ve seen several changes to the HOS restrictions, medical requirements and other safety regulations (not to say they weren’t needed)…. But very little change in driver pay. These same drivers, power through and continue to do what is asked, required, needed of them to do, but for years, there had not been a significant change in pay throughout the industry. Experienced drivers are being forced out, unable to continue to do the job they did so well for so long. It’s time for them to retire. Those new to the industry have big hopes of making a good living out on the road. They are giving up time with their family, evenings and weekends off…for what? For a grumpy DM? Angry shippers or less motivated receivers? No, they are making sacrifices because they KNOW the world needs them…and they love driving truck. Still, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t make a good living at what they love to do.

Trucking companies are realizing that and many have increased wages significantly. Some, like Decker Truck Line, have increased the BASE pay over 23% and implemented additional bonus programs and incentives to the drivers hoping to illustrate their appreciation for all the hard work and sacrifices they do for each and every one of us. This brings up the average median pay to above $65,000 for Decker drivers, plus numerous DTL drivers making significantly more than the median wage AND, because it’s not ALL about the amount of money you bring home, it’s also about quality of life and respect you receive, Decker has been able to provide better home time opportunities and driver friendly policy changes to their hard working team.

Now, allow me to pump my arm and hope for a trucker “heck ya”.


Jesse Butler is a driver recruiter for Decker Truck Line. She has worked within the trucking industry for over a decade. You can contact her at 406.203.4413. 

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