State’s trucker shortage expected to be key transportation issue this session

Traffic along Snapfinger Road in DeKalb County.

Jan 05, 2024

EDITOR’S NOTE: In the weeks leading up to the 2024 legislative session, State Affairs is taking a look at key issues likely to lead to proposed legislation and lively debate at the Statehouse. Our latest story focuses on  transportation.

The amount and value of goods moving through Georgia is among the highest in the country, but the state’s trucking industry is facing challenges with fewer drivers and a lack of affordable insurance — key issues that could anchor debate on transportation concerns during this legislative session.

In 2022, trucks transported 629 million tons of freight in Georgia valued at nearly $1 trillion dollars, according to TRIP, a national transportation research nonprofit. By 2050, that value is expected to grow by 96% as more freight is moved over Georgia roads. 

America will need 1.2 million truck drivers over the next decade to replace those who retire and to fill jobs expected to be created to meet growing industry demand, according to the American Trucking Association.

In the last year alone, Georgia has had more than 25,000 job openings for tractor trailer drivers, according to Daniela Perry, vice president of the Georgia Chamber Foundation, the chamber’s research arm. 

Trucking companies throughout Georgia and the nation are having a hard time finding and keeping truck drivers. While hauling freight is lucrative, it also costs money to train drivers and it’s risky and fraught with liability — factors that have led to a shortage of drivers.

Tort cases, especially direct-action lawsuits, are hurting the trucking industry. A direct-action lawsuit allows an injured person to directly sue the insurance company of the person at fault.

Georgia Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner John King told lawmakers in August that Georgia’s trucking industry depends on the state’s ability to find affordable insurance. He urged them to end direct action, saying it would be the surest way to provide relief to the industry.

State lawmakers plan to address the trucking shortage — and the causes behind it ––  during the next legislative session which convenes Monday. 

The Senate Study Committee on Truck Driver Shortages last month released its recommendations to help the trucking industry attract and retain drivers. The recommendations were compiled after four months of testimony and hearings across the state from people and experts in the trucking industry.

Here are some of the 16 recommendations: 

Repeal the direct action statute.   Aside from Georgia, only three other states — Louisiana, Wisconsin and Kansas — have direct action statutes, insurance commissioner King noted. Neighboring states don’t allow it and the trucking industry is the only industry in Georgia where insurance companies can be named as defendants in direct action cases. 

Grant Smith, a partner with the Atlanta law firm of Dennis, Corry, Smith & Dixon LLP,  told the study committee that direct action lawsuits have led to “significantly higher verdicts and fear” in the trucking industry. Smaller trucking firms frequently consider leaving the state because of the statute, Smith said. Trucking executive Steve Syfan told the study committee his family-owned business is projected to pay $2.3 million in liability insurance alone in 2024.

Study Committee member Sen. Nabilah Islam Parkes opposed repealing the statute  in her minority report. The Democrat was the only one on the five-member study committee to vote against repealing the statute.

The statute “is not causing or exacerbating a truck driver shortage,” Islam Parkes told State Affairs. “There is no established relationship showing that it's because of direct action that we have these truck driver shortages.”

In fact, Islam Parkes said,  direct action “helps regular Georgians find remedies when they're wrongfully injured. I think it's a good tool for hardworking Georgians. God forbid you get hurt on the road.They need to receive the compensation they deserve to live a fulfilling life after being hurt.”

She also stressed that “the direct action statute does not change the amount insurance companies must pay for the value of these injuries. It just prevents truck drivers and trucking companies from hiding from the lawsuit and leaving Georgians helpless with no recourse or remedy under the law.”

Work with Georgia’s congressional delegation to combat the amount of federal regulation placed on the trucking industry.  This would address the difficult application process and insurance requirements people face trying to enter the trucking industry .

Help the Department of Driver Services increase efficiency in administering commercial driver’s license tests and add more third-party tests for commercial driver’s license road skill tests. 

Find potential opportunities to create dual enrollment programs that lead to internships. This would enable young people to get miles so that they can become insurable drivers.

Urge Georgia’s congressional delegation to commission and finance a study by the appropriate federal agencies to examine the ramifications of shifting to an hourly wage system.

Increase funding for truck driver training programs and tuition assistance, especially for older students who are not recent high school graduates.

Work with the Georgia Department of Transportation to expand public truck parking options. There are 27,000 truck parking spaces in Georgia. Private parking such as Flying J’s and Love’s account for 94% of the spaces while public parking such as rest stops or weigh stations make up the rest. Parking is one of the top five concerns nationally among truck drivers — some 98% report problems finding safe parking. The average truck driver spends 56 minutes of available drive time each day looking for parking. That wasted time amounts to a $5,500 loss in annual compensation, or a 12% pay cut, according to Matt Markham, deputy director of planning at the Georgia Department of Transportation. Difficulty finding parking often leads to trucks parking on exit ramps, shoulders of the road and other unauthorized locations. 

Revise applicable code ordinances regarding warehouses and facilities for truck drivers to include facilities for overnight stays.

Urge the Department of Corrections to consider implementing a commercial driver’s license training program for inmates.

Despite her opposition to repealing the direct action statute, Islam Parkes favors the rest of the recommendations, which she says are likely to end up in some form of legislation. She’d also like to see the trucking industry attract more young people, especially those between the ages of 19 and 24, and more women.

“We put a lot of hard work into this. We've heard a lot of testimonies,” said Islam Parkes. “So I feel like there's a lot of good information here for us to proceed and craft legislation that would definitely help increase the number of truck drivers we have on the road.”

Have questions? Contact Tammy Joyner on X @lvjoyner or at [email protected].

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