By Kristen Miller
Enterprise Dispatch Editor
Truck drivers are essential to the American economy as a majority of all goods will or have been transported over the road. However, often their dedication and hard work is overlooked by the average consumer.
This week, Americans take the opportunity to honor all professional truck drivers for their hard work and commitment during National Truck Driver Appreciation Week now through Saturday, Sept. 22
In Minnesota alone, trucks transported 85 percent of total manufactured tonnage in 2010 or 528,529 tons per day, according to the Minnesota Trucking Association. More than 68 percent of Minnesota communities depend exclusively on trucks to move their goods.
Local transportation companies such as GW Transportation of Delano, a logistics company specializing in interstate freight.
“We are a travel agent for freight,” said Lance Wetter, vice president and general manager.
GW Transportation works with between 4,000 and 5,000 carriers that haul through US and Canada for a total of about 500 shipments per month.
In 2010, the trucking industry in Minnesota provided 121,560 jobs, or one out of 18 in the state.
Wetters figures that at least 90 percent of consumer products were hauled by a truck somewhere in the transportation process.
This is why the economy has a great effect on the truck industry almost immediately, he said, adding that it’s basic economics.
In 2008 and 2009, was when Wetters saw a huge effect on the economy had on transportation industry.
This was when the economy took a hit and thousands of trucking companies either went bankrupt or out of business.
Now, the economy is looking better, but not great, he commented.
In 2010, the trucking industry starting seeing a little bit more demand and rates did go up. Now, that demand has leveled off, he said.
Fuel prices also have a major effect on the industry.
Despite a fuel surcharge tacked on to consumer products, carriers still absorb the cost of transportation in between loads when the trailer is empty.
The greatest obstacle to transportation companies have been the increased regulations, which makes it more difficult to attract drivers to the industry.
The industry right now is experiencing a driver shortage, Wetter said, with the average age of drivers in their mid-40s and early 50s.
“We’re not attracting the young people into the driver profession,” he said. Some of the factors may include the wages and lifestyle of drivers, which can be difficult.
The economy needs to go up, too, so the carriers can pay drivers better wages.
There are also stringent regulations placed on drivers.
“There are a lot of constraints on the industry,” he said.
Here are even more statistics that further emphasize just how important truck drivers are to the economy and the individual consumer.
• Total trucking industry wages paid in Minnesota in 2010 exceeded $5.5 billion, with an average annual trucking industry salary of $45,178.
• In 2011, there were more than 14,370 trucking companies located in Minnesota, most of them small, locally-owned businesses. These companies are served by a wide range of supporting businesses, both large and small.
• Between 1990 and 2006, total truck tonnage increased nearly 40 percent, and it is only expected to climb.
• In 2009, the trucking industry in Minnesota paid approximately $680 million in federal and state roadway taxes and fees. The industry paid 33 percent of all taxes and fees owed by Minnesota motorists, despite trucks representing only 8 percent of vehicle miles traveled in the state.
• At the national level, the large truck fatal crash rate for 2009 was 1.04 fatal crashes per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. This rate is at its lowest point since the US Department of Transportation began keeping these records in 1975. Since that time, it has dropped 77 percent.