Trucker Shortage Worsens As Energy Sector Booms With the oil and gas sectors booming, the need for truckers is growing. But the ranks of well-trained drivers are shrinking, especially as baby boomers hit retirement age. And competition for drivers has become fierce, with the annual turnover rate nearing 100 percent.

Trucker Shortage Worsens As Energy Sector Booms

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This country faces a shortage of truck drivers. There is no shortage of 18 wheeler trucks, as you will find when you travel any interstate, but trucking companies are desperate for new drivers. Greater demand to ship cargo has come up against tighter driving rules as well as high turnover rates in the job. Andrew Schneider reports from our member station KUHF in Houston.

ANDREW SCHNEIDER, BYLINE: When goods arrive in Houston, they may come in containers stacked high on huge ships or strung out on long lines of rail cars. But to get to the customer, those goods need to be put on trucks and driven to their final destination. And now the energy boom is increasing the demand for truckers. The U.S. Energy Information Administration says oil delivered to refineries by trucks shot up 38 percent between 2011 and 2012.

But while the need for truckers is growing, the ranks of well-trained drivers are shrinking.

BRIAN FIELKOW: The driver pool is aging, and there are not enough young drivers coming out of truck-driving school to replace those drivers, at the same time that the demand for freight is increasing.

SCHNEIDER: Brian Fielkow is president of Jetco Delivery, a trucking company based in Houston's East End. The American Trucking Association puts the driver shortage at about 30,000. That's out of three million on the nation's roads. It may seem surprising that so many jobs are going begging - especially given how well those jobs pay. James Stone has spent the past 10 years servicing firefighting equipment. He's now studying for his commercial truck driver's license at San Jacinto College.

JAMES STONE: From checking with various carriers out there, entry level is probably going to be in the range of realistically $40,000 annually, possibly up to $50,000. And then beyond that, it can get up $60,000, $70,000, $80,000 a year.

SCHNEIDER: But employers say not everyone who wants to be a trucker can pass the background checks. Drug use and spotty driving records wash out a lot of applicants. Among those who do have clean records, many are reluctant to become truckers because of the long stretches away from home.

STONE: Depending on which company you work for and what division you're in with them, you could be gone two weeks at a time, three weeks at a time, six weeks at a time, and you've got to make sure things are right at home where you don't put a strain on the family life.

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SCHNEIDER: Earning top dollar also requires driving long hours into the night. That can take a toll on truckers' health. The Transportation Department estimates driver fatigue leads to more than 1,000 crashes every year. To reduce accidents, the department enacted new hours-of-service regulations that took effect on July 1st.

The limits on driving time may be better for the driver's health, but not necessarily for his wallet. Lorie Qualls is manager of Lone Star College's Transportation Institute.

LORIE QUALLS: Basically, what's happening is instead of having the ability to drive 82 hours in a seven-day period, they're losing 15 percent and going to 70 hours in seven days.

SCHNEIDER: Once they hit 70 hours, truckers have to take a thirty-four hour break - including two overnight periods. If the driver times it wrong, that reset could add as much as two full days to the cross-country journey. So this Labor Day weekend, truck drivers may be a little less sleepy - and that's good for everyone on the road.

But truckers may be coping with an effective pay cut, and spending even more time away from home because they are required to stop to rest. For NPR News, I'm Andrew Schneider in Houston.

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