Few occupations feel every jolt along the nation's economic highway as deeply as trucking. Although the American Trucking Association reported a slight rise in business in November, the previous month was the worst October for hauling cargo by truck in five years. And October is normally the busiest month on the road for the holiday season.
A total of 785 trucking companies with a combined fleet of about 39,000 trucks went out of business in the third quarter, bringing the number of company trucks idled in the first nine months of 2008 to more than 127,000, or 6.5 percent of the industry, reported Donald Broughton, trucking analyst and managing director of Avondale Partners.
The tough times have pushed many drivers who had been on company payrolls out to compete for cargo business with the nation's independent owner-operator drivers, who were already struggling.
Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, estimates that the industry probably lost work for about 100,000 drivers in the first half of 2008 when diesel prices were at record highs.
Spencer added that requirements such as work hour regulations are making it more difficult for the average driver to survive. Work-hour regulations allow for 11 hours of driving followed by a requirement of at least eight hours of sleep, which many truckers find difficult to do all at once. In addition, more states such as California are adopting tougher environmental regulations that require drivers to use the newest, cleanest and most expensive rigs.
Spencer noted that the group's average member is 50 years old, has been driving for about 20 years, owns 1.8 trucks, has no medical insurance or retirement plan and clears about $40,000 annually after taxes.