March 5, 2019

Industry praises renewed government efforts to address truck driver shortage

Trade associations are hopeful as Congress reintroduces the DRIVE-Safe Act, aimed at expanding the pool of available talent for open truck driver positions.

By Victoria Kickham

Logistics and transportation industry leaders are applauding the reintroduction of a bill aimed at easing the nation's shortage of truck drivers.

The DRIVE-Safe Act was reintroduced February 26 by 14 Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate, and trade association leaders say they are hopeful strong bipartisan support will help push the measure forward this year. The bill aims to lift age restrictions that prevent drivers from crossing state lines and to improve safety and training through a rigorous apprenticeship program, proponents said. The DRIVE acronym stands for Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy.

"We feel confident that we will build a lot of support for this," said Mark Allen, president and CEO of the International Foodservice Distributors Association (IFDA), one of more than 50 trade groups backing the bill.

The truck driver shortage touches all aspects of the supply chain, Allen and others argue, pointing to rising freight rates and increasing consumer prices as by-products of the problem.

"Given the broad coalition of interests backing this measure, there is growing understanding across the country that the impact of this issue reaches far beyond just trucking and commercial vehicles," American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear said following the reintroduction of the bill. "It is a strain on the entire supply chain, from the manufacturers and producers on down to retail and the end consumer, who will see higher prices at the store."   

Lifting driver age restrictions is a key part of the proposal. Although 48 states allow individuals to obtain a commercial driver's license (CDL) and drive trucks at age 18, federal regulations prevent those drivers from crossing state lines until they turn 21. Proponents of the bill call the federal regulation outdated and say it limits the potential pool of candidates for open truck driver positions. As it stands now, Allen explained, professional drivers under age 21 can make the more than 300-mile trip from Maclean, Va., to deliver products to Bristol, Va., but they are prohibited from making similar deliveries from Maclean to Washington, D.C., just 12 miles away.

What's more, expanding the pool of candidates will open new career opportunities for young people seeking good-paying jobs, Allen added. According to IFDA data from 2017, the average salary for a foodservice distribution driver nationally is $63,000 a year.

Improving safety and training is another key part of the bill. The DRIVE-Safe Act would allow certified CDL holders already permitted to drive intrastate the opportunity to participate in an apprenticeship program designed to help them master interstate driving, while also promoting enhanced safety training for emerging members of the workforce, IFDA and other supporters said.

The apprenticeship program provides CDL drivers an additional, two-step training program with what supporters describe as rigorous performance benchmarks. Drivers must complete at least 400 hours of on-duty time and 240 hours of driving time in the cab with an experienced driver. Every driver will train on trucks equipped with new safety technology, including active braking collision mitigation systems, video event capture, and a speed governor set at 65 miles per hour.  

"We think this will result in a better-prepared, much safer driver," Allen said. "If you have an opportunity to put an experienced driver in the cab of a truck with someone learning, that experienced driver gets a good sense of the younger person's temperament, maturity [and so forth]. That's another important benefit of this [program]."

Allen said the main challenge moving forward lies in what the DRIVE-Safe Act will be attached to, which could include an infrastrucutre bill or an appropriations bill.

"There is a road ahead, but we're optimistic," Allen said. "In this day and age, there's nothing done that is bipartisan [so] to see legislation that's got support from Republicans, Democrats, from urban areas, rural areas and from different parts of the country [indicates to us] that we will continue to build support."

The DRIVE-Safe Act is cosponsored by Senators Todd Young, R-Ind.; Jon Tester, D-Mont.; Tom Cotton, R-Ark.; Angus King, I-Maine; Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.; Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.; and Jerry Moran, R-Kan.; and Representatives Trey Hollingsworth, R-Ind.; Jim Cooper, D-Tenn.; Henry Cuellar, D-Texas; Al Green, D-Texas; Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas; Paul Mitchell, R-Mich.; and Bruce Westerman, R-Ark.

About the Author

Victoria Kickham
Senior Editor
Victoria Kickham started her career as a newspaper reporter in the Boston area before moving into B2B journalism. She has covered manufacturing, distribution and supply chain issues for a variety of publications in the industrial and electronics sectors, and now writes about everything from forklift batteries to omnichannel business trends for DC Velocity.

More articles by Victoria Kickham

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