By Kristen Miller
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 K-Way Express, help fulfill those needs.
Jim Koch helps run the family-owned business based out of Winsted, which employs close to 50 full-time employees including office staff, drivers, mechanics, and warehouse.
Diverse in what K-Way can haul, some of its main customers include Tetra Pak, AWI, Millerbernd Manufacturing, and Seneca (formerly Green Giant).
As far as miles, K-Way drivers rack up roughly 290,000 miles a month or 3.5 million miles a year, according to Koch.
In 2010, the trucking industry in Minnesota provided 121,560 jobs, or one out of 18 in the state.
The greatest obstacle to transportation companies have been the increased regulations, which makes it more difficult to attract drivers to the industry.
More regulations are being placed on drive-time and required experience.
Drivers are now limited on what they can do and how many hours they can drive in a day, Koch explained.
“Regulations are hurting these guys,” he said.
Other reasons the industry is experiencing driver shortage is the demands that are put on the drivers and the lifestyle that it often requires.
Truck driving is a skilled labor. “It’s a very tough job to be away from your family and friends for long periods of time,” Koch said.
Some of the obstacles include parking overnight, finding places to shower, and time constraints that come with working with companies’ shipping and receiving departments.
Demand for over-the-road transportation is also increasing, due in large part to fewer truck drivers and greater demand being placed on transportation companies.
“Everything you get somehow was on a truck,” Koch said. “Except for electricity.”
Between 1990 and 2006, total truck tonnage increased nearly 40 percent, and it is only expected to climb.
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.
• 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.