Senators seek solutions to truck driver shortage

Red truck

Maurice Garard, an owner-operator long haul truck driver based in McDonough, at a fueling station in Forest Park last year. (Credit: Jill Jordan Sieder)

HIRAM, Ga. – A Senate study committee charged with finding solutions to Georgia’s truck driver shortage heard from truck drivers, business owners and other leaders in the trucking industry this week.  

They described challenges ranging from a tight labor market to high insurance costs to onerous federal regulations that are putting a squeeze on the industry.

The state insurance commissioner lobbied for the repeal of a law governing lawsuits against trucking companies, while lawmakers looked for ways to expedite driver training and testing.

What’s Happening

Georgia, like the rest of the country, is facing a serious shortage of commercial truck drivers. 

According to a recent study by the American Trucking Association, the U.S. needs 80,000 more drivers to handle the current demands of commerce, and will have a deficit of 160,000 drivers by 2030. 

Increasing demand for freight and an aging trucker workforce mean that the industry needs to go into overdrive to recruit and train more drivers over the next decade.

That’s especially true in Georgia, which has seen four straight years of record economic growth, said Daniela Perry of the Georgia Chamber Foundation. By 2050, Georgia is expecting to see a 92% increase in freight flow, by tons. Georgia ports will see growth in volume by TEUs (20-foot shipping containers) to 20 million from 6 million. 

Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner John King (Credit: Georgia Senate)

Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner John King said the cost of insuring commercial trucks has become prohibitive for many companies, noting that it costs on average $17,000 to insure one truck in Georgia, one of the highest rates in the Southeast.

King urged lawmakers to consider repealing a state law that allows plaintiffs involved in truck accidents to directly sue the insurance company of the driver. 

“When a jury understands that a giant insurance company is involved,” he said, that often leads to larger jury awards, which causes insurers to raise premiums. Georgia is one of only four states in the U.S. that allows such “direct action” against insurance companies that cover motor carriers, King said.

Lewis Collum, Chief Financial Officer of Taylor Transport in Cartersville (Credit: Georgia Senate)

“The nuclear verdicts are killing us,” said Lewis Collum, chief financial officer of Taylor Transport in Cartersville. He said he’s hard-pressed to pay for expensive liability insurance coverage for his drivers, but must due to the risk of being sued.

In the last legislative session, two bills that would have ended direct action claims for truck insurers faced stiff resistance from trial lawyers, and did not pass.

John Sambdan, owner of Samson Tours, a charter bus service in Atlanta, said that prior to the pandemic, he had 62 vehicles on the road, and is now operating only 28 due to a lack of drivers. His revenues have taken a hit, while inflation has driven up the cost of fuel and truck parts. 

“So we’re really in an untenable situation,” he said.

Ed Crowell, state director of the Georgia Motor Trucking Association, said the industry is facing both “an employee shortage and an entrepreneur shortage. Men and women starting small companies with one, five or 10 truck operators are the backbone of freight movement, and they are getting wiped out,” he said.  

Besides increased costs, Crowell said that some federal regulations make it tough on trucking businesses, including one that prohibits drivers younger than 21 from driving big rigs across state lines. 

Crowell said the age limits serves as a disincentive for young people to pursue CDL training, despite the fact that truck driver salaries range from $55,000 to $85,000 a year in Georgia.

Nearly half the state’s truck driver jobs are held by people who are 45 years or older, said Perry. Only 5% of the jobs are held by drivers age 19 to 24. 

Another factor that discourages drivers is the scarcity of places for trucks to park, said Crowell.  Public rest stops and parking lots in Georgia along interstates are often full. This is problematic for drivers because federal law requires long-haul drivers to stop driving and rest at specified times. If a rest stop isn’t available, drivers often have to pull over on the side of the highway to sleep.

Why It Matters

Nearly every industry and consumer in Georgia depends on truck drivers.

According to the American Trucking Association, trucking is responsible for almost 70% of all shipped freight in the United States, and 80% of U.S. communities depend on trucks for the delivery of everyday goods. 

“It’s easy to dismiss this as being a singular industry issue until an Amazon truck pulls up to your house, and you remember … that truck is grabbing something from a warehouse that got there via an 18-wheeler,” said Sen. Greg Dolezal, R-Cumming.

What’s Next

Sen. Jason Anavitarte, R-Dallas, the Truck Driver Shortages Study Committee Chair, said that discussion of future plans and funding for truck parking will be high on the agenda at the next session.

Jason Anavitarte
Sen. Jason Anavitarte chairs the Senate Truck Driver Shortages Study Committee. (Credit: Georgia Senate)

So will driver training and licensing. 

Anavitarte said he’ll invite Department of Driver Services (DDS) Commissioner Spencer Moore to present information on driver testing, including the strategy behind where CDL test sites are located around the state.

DDS and the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) should collaborate to “maximize opportunities” for driver training, he said. TCSG offers commercial truck driving programs at 19 of its 22 technical colleges.

Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, said he’d like the committee to tackle the lengthy training requirements to obtain a CDL. 

While federal regulations for interstate transport can’t be changed, “Can we not relax requirements for intrastate?” he asked. That might get more dump trucks and equipment trailers on the road, Gooch said.

Steve Gooch
Sen. Steve Gooch. (Credit: Georgia Senate)

“We’re not trying to get rid of regulations,” he added. “But we need to fast track some of these processes. It should not take six months to get a driver’s license.”

Gooch also said he thinks the committee should take a look at tort reform, “which will be a top priority next year in the Senate.” 

The committee’s next meetingis scheduled for Sept. 18 at the Coca-Cola Bottling facility in Union City.

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Header photo: Maurice Garard, an owner-operator long haul truck driver based in McDonough, at a fueling station in Forest Park last year. (Credit: Jill Jordan Sieder)