Speed Reads


John Oliver explains the crucial U.S. trucking industry, and why there isn't really a 'shortage of drivers'

"Our main story tonight concerns trucks," something loved by everybody from toddlers to reality TV producers, John Oliver said on Sunday's Late Week Tonight. "But trucks are not just a staple of reality TV — they're a vital part of our economy, carrying 70 percent of the tonnage that moves around America. And the drivers involved know just how much this country relies on them." Not that they are treated as such, he said.

"Trucking companies have been quick to claim they're suffering a shortage of drivers — they've been saying that for a while now," Oliver said. "But the truth is, their actual problem is less a problem of driver shortage and more of driver retention. Because hundreds of thousands of people become truck drivers every year — but hundreds of thousands also quit," suggesting a "huge problem" for America. "So tonight, let's examine the trucking industry: how drivers make a living, how they often don't, and how companies benefit from the whole miserable system."

Oliver spent a few moments on the glory days of long-haul trucking, the 1970s — partly because trucking was a solid middle-class job, but also because of its glorious contributions to popular culture. But since 1980, truckers are being relentlessly squeezed by unpaid waiting time; federal regulations on mandatory rest periods butting up against biology and company dispatchers; their classification as "independent contractors"; and "predatory" lease purchase agreements, he explained. 

You, the viewer, aren't entirely off the hook. "We should probably recognize that we have all gotten used to the idea of free next-day shipping, but crucially, someone somewhere always pays the price," Oliver said. But more broadly, "the key way to stop this so-called 'shortage of drivers' that we've actually had for years now, is to make this a job that people actually want to stay in." He wrapped it all up with a new reality TV show, based more on reality.