Where truck drivers earn more than lawyers

Road transport prices have reached an all-time high. That is one finding from the new European Road Freight Benchmark report. The reasons are diverse – and there is no relief in sight.


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Road transport: Costs at record high

Global supply chain disruptions, capacity constraints, driver shortages – these are all causing trouble for Europe's freight industry. In the third quarter, the European road freight rate benchmark index rose to a record 107.6, 3 points higher than in the same period last year. This was published by Transport Intelligence (TI), Upply and the International Road Transport Union (IRU).

This means that the index for road freight transport prices has risen for the fifth time in a row.  This represents an increase of 4 percent compared to the second quarter of 2020.  Experts expect freight rates to continue to rise in Q4 as demand increases and capacity remains tight.


A Europe-wide shortage of 400,000 drivers

"Capacity constraints are an increasingly common feature of the European road freight market," say the study’s analysts. In the UK in particular, a shortage of qualified truck drivers and heavy congestion at the Port of Felixstowe have led to empty supermarket shelves. The driver shortage is not limited to Great Britain. While there is a shortage of up to 70,000 drivers there, the shortage in France is estimated at 40,000 to 50,000 drivers, rising to 65,000 in Germany. According to estimates by the British market research company TI, there is currently a shortage of around 400,000 drivers across Europe, with Poland the worst affected with a shortage of 124,000.

  • COVID-19 has further exacerbated the driver shortage, which was concerning even before the pandemic.
  • The average age of the drivers is 55.
  • The working conditions are tough: for example, truck drivers often have to spend nine or ten hours straight behind the wheel. It is not uncommon for them to sleep in the driver's cab and rely on petrol stations for hygiene breaks.
  • Due to coronavirus restrictions, significantly fewer new drivers were able to train and take their test than usual.

Admittedly, the situation is particularly precarious in Great Britain, where drivers from Eastern Europe in particular have stayed away because of the new Brexit rules. But experts say the situation is also set to worsen in other countries. In Germany, there is a threat of "a supply collapse similar to that in England in two to three years", warns the German Association of Freight Transport, Logistics and Disposal.  

Experts: Package of measures needed

Associations and stakeholders agree that a package of measures is the only way to relieve the situation. Better working conditions, the removal of red tape, but above all better pay are being discussed.

The imbalance between demand and a limited supply due to the driver shortage is already causing transport companies to increase their rates. "From the transport operators' point of view, this increase is necessary to cover the rise in their operating and recruitment costs. There’s no guarantee that these price levels can be maintained and preserving their margins will be a real challenge in the coming months," said Thomas Larrieu, Chief Executive Officer of Upply.  The price of diesel also plays a role, according to the experts.


At Waitrose, the British supermarket chain, truck drivers now earn more than lawyers and architects, according to a report in the Daily Mail. The supermarket chain is offering up to £53,780 a year for LGV drivers. At the headquarters of John Lewis & Partners, Waitrose's parent company, two senior positions currently earn salaries of £45,000 and a financial analyst earns £46,700.

ellschaft von Waitrose werden gerade zwei leitende Positionen mit 45 000 Pfund und eine Stelle als Finanzanalyst mit 46 700 Pfund dotiert.


The pandemic increased the pressure on road freight transport and brought challenges to the fore. However, the roots of the problem go deeper. Young people are put off by poor working conditions and expensive training. Drivers (primarily from Eastern Europe) who used to be recruited for poverty wages have opted for a different route. At the same time, demand for transport is increasing. This important industry needs a package of measures to ensure that road transport can continue undisrupted. But in the long run, the companies that will come through the crisis best will be those that not only pay truck drivers higher wages but also offer significantly better working conditions.


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