Diesel Prices Are Rising – What Does This Mean for the Trucking Industry?A spate of news articles have been discussing the rising cost of diesel fuel and its potential effect on the trucking industry. With all the changes and upheaval in this industry over the past few years, yet another issue could have profound consequences for everyone on our nation’s roads and highways, including North Dakota.

Per KRCG News, supply levels of diesel fuel are at “record lows,” which in turn means prices are headed for record highs. Although this will eventually reach everyday drivers like us, it’s affecting commercial truck drivers right now. Trucker Leo Nyanmbwe told the publication, “It’s not good for us because we’re spending more money on diesel than the money we make. See, so most of the drivers are shutting down business because they’re afraid of having a breakdown on the side of the road and then spending money to fix the truck.”

With a trucker shortage already in motion, this can only make things worse for everyone. We previously discussed this trucker shortage back in the spring, noting that “Some trucking companies actually have a driver turnover rate of 100 and 300 percent. So yes, there is a truck driver shortage – but not because truckers don’t want to drive.” Now, with a fuel shortage looming as well, the short-term outlook for the trucking industry isn’t great.

Jalopnik notes that many truckers are independent and pay for the costs associated with their rigs out of their own pockets. And, as of November 8, the national average diesel price is a full $1.60/gallon higher than the same time it was last year. Per Jalopnik, “That would be bad enough for someone in a passenger car, but it’s catastrophic when you’re driving an 18-wheeler thousands of miles a week.”

Nyanmbwe told KRCG he pays approximately $1,200 every time he fills up his truck. Right now, it feels like truckers just can’t win. Jalopnik makes a great point:

Before 1980, the trucking industry was heavily unionized, and pricing for carriers was generally based on industry-wide fixed rates. The Motor Carrier Act encouraged trucking companies to set their own rates, which started a race to the bottom. This was further fueled by a proliferation of new, non-union trucking companies. Without the union behind them, truckers saw their pay and their quality of life erode until we arrive[d] at the present day.

When the trucking industry suffers, we all do

Trucker Leo Nyanmbwe isn’t alone. He tells KRCG, “Most of the companies have shut down and closed their doors. So the more they close their doors, more truck drivers shutting down, the more prices of goods and services go up.” Although we should be concerned that prices of consumer goods are likely climbing, we should also raise an eyebrow about yet another truck driver shortage.

With fewer drivers available to move more cargo, trucking companies may turn to unethical and unsafe methods to meet deadlines and make profits. Employers may encourage their drivers to do things like break hours of service (HOS) rules, overload their trailers, or violate other trucking industry regulations. Some may put inexperienced or unvetted drivers on the road in an effort to build up their fleet. All of these choices can lead to an increase in commercial truck accidents.

The American Trucking Association (ATA) recently projected 2022’s truck driver shortage will be the second-highest on record, at 78,000 drivers. The highest on record was 2021, with 81,258. Per the ATA, “While all sectors in the industry struggle with finding enough qualified drivers, the driver shortage is most acute in the longer-haul (i.e., non-local) for-hire truckload market.” These are the truckers who haul cargo across several states, or across the country – long-haul truckers. The ATA also notes that if trends continue, by 2031, the shortage could surpass 160,000 drivers.

How a truck driver shortage could cause more accidents

North Dakota already has a spotty record for truck accidents. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) includes our state as part of its Deadliest Dozen for truck accidents. In response to this “Deadliest Dozen” list, the Truck Safety Coalition (TSC) stated:

Despite this trend [of increasing fatalities], policymakers are acting with little urgency to curb the carnage on our roads. Members of Congress and truck crash victim volunteers of the TSC issued a call to action, demanding decision-makers reckon with the price of inaction and take swift and meaningful action to address this crisis.

Some of the ways a truck driver shortage could lead to an increase of truck accidents include:

  • Tighter delivery schedules. With fewer drivers available to make deliveries, trucking companies must rely on the drivers they do have to take more shifts and drive longer distances. This can result in companies tacitly (or overtly) encouraging drivers to break HOS regulations, which may cause them to drive while fatigued or under the influence of drugs. Remaining on the road for overly long periods can also cause drivers to miss scheduled maintenance, another cause of truck accidents.
  • Inexperienced truck drivers. One of the solutions to the truck driver shortage is hiring less experienced drivers who may not be fully qualified for the job. Companies should be looking for applicants with a clean driving record and a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Trucking companies should also regularly audit their drivers to ensure their driving record remains clean and that they are current on their training, maintenance, and rules of the road.
  • Overloaded trucks. In order to move more cargo with less trucks, companies may overload their trucks or trailers. This is risky and unsafe. An overloaded truck is heavier than usual and needs more braking distance, as well as being more difficult to maneuver. Overloaded trucks can also be more susceptible to tire blowouts.

If you’re involved in an accident with a truck, several parties may be liable for your injuries and losses. Depending on the circumstances of the crash, the truck driver, the trucking company, or the truck manufacturer may be accountable.

At Larson Law Firm, PC, our Minot truck accident attorneys can help when you or a loved one are injured in a commercial truck accident. We work with clients throughout North Dakota when another’s negligence causes them catastrophic injury and harm. Get in touch with us today for experienced and skilled representation. Call or fill out our contact form to schedule an appointment. We maintain additional offices in Bismarck and Fargo.