A shortage of drivers is the top trucking concern for US transport operators according to a report published this week.

In its annual survey, the American Transportation Research Institute found that motor carriers and the industry in general are most concerned about a lack of qualified drivers to carry the nation’s freight.

ATRI released the survey results this week at the American Trucking Association’s management conference and exhibition in Austin, Texas in Austin, Texas. ATRI is the research arm of the American Trucking Association.

“I’ve spent the past year traveling the country as ATA chairman and everywhere I go, people talk about how we’ve got to resolve our workforce challenges if we’re going to keep this nation’s economy moving forward,” said ATA chairman Dave Manning,

The US industry’s second most important concern is gaining flexibility in the federal hours-of-service rules. The regulation limits truck drivers in the USA to no more than 11 hours a day within a 14-hour workday. Drivers must then be off duty for 10 consecutive hours.

The ATA is calling for increased flexibility in the rules. The industry wants to be better able to deal with issues such as traffic congestion, which ATRI said cost the trucking industry around the equivalent of $AUD53 billion in lost productivity last year.

ATRI said allowing the required 10-hour non-driving break to be split into two five-hour or other time blocks would allow drivers to plan around the nation’s worst traffic bottlenecks.

The US Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is considering revising the rules. It received more than 5,200 public comments to proposed hours-of-service changes, many about rest breaks.

“Are there inefficiencies being created with the existing hours-of-service framework? That’s the question I’ve been asking since the day I got here,” Ray Martinez, the agency’s administrator, said earlier this year.

“I believe over the last few months, I’ve gotten some very good, constructive suggestions. I don’t know if they are the answers. It’s what warrants consideration.”

The third most important issue was retention in other words keeping drivers already employed by transport companies to blunt the effects of the drivers shortage, which the ATA estimates at  around 63,000 at this point in time.

Attrition among large trucking firms hit 98 percent earlier this year in the USA according to latest figures  While there is a core of the best drivers who don’t leave\ the attrition is driven by younger drivers who leave three or four months into a job and then go to another company and do the same thing.

A hot-button issue last year, a new regulation forcing drivers to operate trucks equipped with electronic logging devices that digitally track the number of hours they drive daily, has faded as a concern of both US transport operators and drivers who responded to the survey.

The industry feared that implementation of the rule would disrupt shipping, but truckers have largely adapted to the new regulation.

Fewer than one per cent of drivers stopped by inspectors failed to have an ELD, according to the FMCSA. The issue has fallen to fourth on ATRI’s list.

“When everyone saw that the world didn’t end, ELDs became less of an issue for both groups,” said Rebecca Brewster, ATRI president.