How COVID-19 Affected the Trucking Industry
During the pandemic, truck drivers were on the frontlines, ensuring that essential deliveries continued to take place. The work of these drivers was in high demand as supply chains were strained and the need for goods and medical equipment increased.
And, while every industry was affected by the pandemic, the trucking industry was affected in its own unique way. Due to the nature of moving supplies around the country and the vital role that drivers have in keeping this steady flow of goods from ports to warehouses and stores, any time this supply chain is disrupted in any way, the industry as a whole must respond.
And, as the dust settles on the whirlwind of 2020 and 2021, the effects are becoming more apparent. The following are the key ways in which COVID-19 had an impact on the world of trucking and what that means for the future ahead.
Soaring Demand for Truck Drivers
While the pandemic slowed down a lot of industries, truck driving remained essential to the operation of day-to-day life. In fact, COVID-19 spurred on the need for more truck drivers to meet the high demands of consumers.
Remember the early days of panic buying?
At the same time, many left the industry during the pandemic, creating a shortage of drivers. This was in part due to the aging population of truck drivers, an industry that has relied heavily on these experienced drivers. Many of these drivers opted to retire early, rather than press forward during a stressful pandemic.
According to a report from the American Trucking Associations, in 2021 the truck driver shortage hit a historic high, with a shortage of over 80,000 drivers.
This shortage was compounded by the pandemic, and the continued demands being placed on the supply chain appear to continue this trend moving forward.
The good news is that for those interested in a career in truck driving, there has never been a better time to invest in completing required driver training and the necessary CDL exams. The opportunity for work is immense across the nation, and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
Contactless Options Rise
Throughout the pandemic, the focus has been on reducing the amount of in-person interactions that take place. This led to an increase in contactless options for truck drivers. These options covered a variety of tasks associated with truck driving including the following:
- The use of paperless invoicing, replacing logs of old with electronic versions
- Calling ahead to pre-schedule unloading of cargo to ensure little to no contact between drivers and warehouse employees
- Using electronic communication to connect with other drivers and warehouse managers rather than in-person interactions
During the height of the pandemic, drivers also battled limited options for stop-overs. Many gas stations, warehouses, and other facilities shut down restrooms and showers, making it more difficult for drivers to plan their routes. Even finding a hotel to stay in became a huge challenge.
Thankfully, as things open back up, many of the frustrations of the pandemic are lessening, while the positives of efficient, electronic communication are remaining in place. The future looks to include a continued emphasis on contactless and remote options for drivers.
FMCSA Issued a Variety of Waivers and Emergency Declarations
During the pandemic, due to the essential nature of the work of truck drivers, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued a few waivers and declarations to help ensure that supply chains could continue to operate smoothly.
For starters, a declaration was issued that provided regulatory relief in regards to the maximum time a driver could operate a commercial vehicle. This change in regulations only applied to the transportation of goods directly related to COVID-19 relief, including vaccines, medical supplies, and medical equipment. Additionally, the provision applied to essential goods, such as livestock, livestock feed, paper products, and groceries.
During the pandemic, there was also a great strain placed on State Driver Licensing Agencies (SDLA). Many of these agencies reduced hours of operation, which made it impossible for those holding CLDs and CLPs to renew their licenses. For this reason, a waiver was issued that allowed drivers to continue to operate even with expired credentials.
To meet the rising demand for truck drivers, the FMCSA extended a waiver allowing those who have passed a CDL skills test but have not yet received their credentials to operate commercial vehicles so long as there is a CDL holder seated anywhere in-cab.
While many of these waivers and declarations were issued early on during the beginning of the pandemic, the FMCSA has continued to renew them in 2021. Depending on the number of case rates over the holiday season, it remains to be seen which regulations will continue and which ones will be allowed to expire.
New Drivers Are Being Onboarded Remotely
While certain aspects of truck driver training must take place in-person, many companies are now offering hybrid options for those who wish to complete portions of their training and on-boarding remotely.
From virtual orientations to continued learning opportunities hosted remotely, the goal is to cut down on the amount of in-person activities. In turn, this has made it easier for many new employees to balance their work and daily life due to the flexibility of remote options.
Heading into a Bright Future
As is true across industries, COVID-19 affected truck driving. And, while there were many frustrations to be handled throughout the pandemic, the future for the industry is bright. Many efficiencies achieved out of necessity during the pandemic will fuel a better tomorrow for the next generation of drivers.
For DOT physical providers, this translates to an increase in demand for services. As new drivers are on-boarded and existing drivers are due to renew their CDL exams, there will be an uptick in appointments scheduled. If you are a DOT physical provider, there is no better time than now to advertise your exam locations to this group of potential clients.
And, for those looking to schedule a DOT exam, finding a nearby DOT exam location can help ensure that all your paperwork is in place for the busy year ahead. As things return to normal, it is fair to expect that regulations will resume as well.