Driving Economic Growth

Trends of America's Trucking Industry

Trucking Industry Trends

Each day, the United States transportation system hauls an average of 48.8 million tons of freight across our highways, waterways, pipelines, rails and sky. Of all of this cargo, more than 70 percent is carried by truck.

The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that, in 2016, the transportation sector as a whole contributed 8.9 percent to the U.S. gross domestic product. The trucking industry makes up a large part of this. the American Trucking Association (ATA) reports that gross freight revenues from trucking were $796.7 billion in 2018, representing 80.3 percent of the nation’s freight bill. 

Trucks move an astounding amount of product (in weight and value) in the United States, making the trucking industry a critical part of our nation’s economy. To see just how important trucking is to our everyday lives—from getting the food we eat to providing income to millions of Americans—let’s look at some trucking industry trends.

Truck Driving Industry Trends and Stats: An Overview

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics offers a high-level overview of truck driving industry trends among its vast collection of data, which also includes information about rail, air and sea transportation. Various trucking industry trade organizations such as the ATA and industry news websites such as Transport Topics and Freight Waves also keep their eye on trucking developments.

We looked to these organizations and publications to find the most recent truck driving industry trends and, in general, the trucking industry forecast for the upcoming year and into the next few decades. 

We looked at not just earnings and employment information but also explored safety, technology and other truck driving industry trends.

Trucking Industry Trends: Tonnage and Mileage

As mentioned earlier, the trucking industry collectively moves about 70 percent of the freight in the United States. The ATA reports that, in 2018, this added up to about 11.5 billion tons. 

Trucks are also responsible for carrying the most freight to our neighboring countries. In 2018, trucks carried 67.4 percent of trade between the United States and Canada as well as 83.5 percent between the United States and Mexico. Both of these figures are an increase from 2017. In fact, the ATA says truck-transported trade to Mexico rose more than 10 percent in these 12 months.

Although 2019 saw tonnage numbers dip from previous years, a press release from ATA includes an optimistic trucking industry forecast: The organization expects freight tonnage to increase by 25.6 percent by 2030.

Tonnage amount isn’t the only impressive industry number. To say trucks drove millions of miles is an understatement. The ATA estimates that there are 36 million trucks registered and used for business purposes (not including government and farm use) in the United States. These trucks drove almost 300 billion miles in 2017. 

Trucking Industry Trends: Employment and Training

The ATA reports that, excluding the self-employed, more than 7.8 million people work in a trucking industry-related job. This includes about 3.5 million truck drivers.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers to grow by 5 percent through 2028. The expected increase in tonnage also means growth in other industry-related positions.

Although the “truck driver shortage” is often exaggerated in news reports, the industry is seeing a struggle in finding qualified drivers. The ATA reports that the industry is in need of younger drivers. The average age of an over-the-road driver is 46, and the average age of a newly trained driver is 35.  

Aside from many longstanding drivers hitting retirement age, turnover is also impacting the industry. To attract younger drivers and increase employee retention, many carriers have improved compensation packages with increased pay, better benefits, more flexible schedules and even more amenities within the trucks. 

When it comes to training and professional development for drivers, among the trucking industry trends to expect is a focus on standardization. Although delayed two years from its original start date in February 2020, trucking companies and truck driving schools will prepare to implement programs that meet the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Entry Level Driver Training Rule.

Trucking Industry Trends: Safety and Technology

In 2020, the trucking industry will see regulation changes, which go hand-in-hand with an increased focus on safety. New (or improved) technology will also contribute to safety and efficiency.

Driver fatigue has been a longstanding concern in the industry, leading to strict state and federal break and hours and service (HOS) regulations. This inflexibility, however, has also impacted efficiency. In 2020, thanks to industry advocacy, we’re likely to see regulations relax a bit, meaning that drivers would be able to split up their allotted break time. This would allow them to drive and deliver on a schedule that fits their needs (or allot time for unforeseen circumstances such as weather or traffic) while still getting adequate rest to do their job safely.   

GPS has, of course, been around for decades, and electronic logging devices, or ELDs, are the new norm, but here’s a look at a few technology trends that will continue to grow in trucking:

  • Automated tools and safety features (such as adaptive cruise control and platooning)
  • Artificial intelligence (such as inventory control or scheduling software)
  • Telematics (for data analysis, navigation, training and safety warnings)

The U.S. Government Accountability Office, in a report about trucking technology as it relates to the workforce, mentioned that increased technology could make trucking “less stressful and less physically intensive.” This could help the profession appeal to younger drivers as well as result in lower turnover. 

Many of these regulations and technological implementations, however, have changed trucking from days past. For example, electronic monitoring devices certainly increase transparency between company and client or customer, but it’s also a shift in culture for an industry where drivers enjoyed autonomy.

Trucking Industry Trends: Fuel and Energy

Aside from wages, fuel is undoubtedly the top expense for freight carriers today. The ATA reports that trucks consumed more than 54.3 billion gallons of fuel, with 38.8 billion gallons of this diesel and 15.5 gallons of this gasoline. All this totaled more than $105 billion.

Fuel use also affects the environment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says the transportation industry is responsible for 28.5 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. The good news is that, overall, carbon dioxide emissions in the United States have decreased by about 80 percent in the past 10 years.

We’re seeing more and more electric and hybrid cars on the road. One predicted truck driving industry trend is that we’ll eventually see a move toward clean energy in place of diesel engines. Transport Topics reports that Roger Neilsen, CEO of Daimler Trucks North America, told attendees of a transportation expo: “I believe the future is electric. The road to emissions-free driving will be driven by battery-electric vehicles.”

Lowering truck emissions will require many infrastructure changes, so keeping up to speed on this environmentally friendly path means cooperation and collaboration with other industries and government agencies and regulators.

Trucking Industry Trends: Truck and Trailer Sales

Increased truck and trailer sales could mean a healthy trucking industry forecast for the coming year. FleetOwner reported in October 2019 that the manufacturing of Class 8 trucks was up 51 percent in 2019 from 2016’s numbers. Commercial Carrier Journal reports strong trailer orders in 2019 signify confidence for the industry in the year to come. 

Research organization ThomasNet reported that there’s been an increase in sourcing demand in other freight-related categories such as pallets, containers and wooden crates. This is a good sign for trucking industry growth.

Trucking Industry Forecast: A Recap

As you can see, there are many positive things in the trucking industry’s future. Here’s a review of some of the highlights of our truck driving industry trends report:

  • A predicted 25.6 percent increase in tonnage by 2030 will result in trucking industry growth.
  • This trucking industry growth rate means a 5 percent increase in demand for truck drivers through 2028.
  • Carriers will continue to improve compensation packages to attract and retain younger employees.
  • Truck driving schools and fleet owners will work toward standardized training programs.
  • Trucking regulations will become more flexible while still prioritizing driver and public safety.
  • Technological enhancements will lead to more efficiency.
  • The industry will explore ways to reduce its carbon footprint.

PFQ Companies is proud to be part of this growing industry. Learn more about us and driver/owner-operator opportunities within our organization.