In our three-plus decades covering the logistics and supply chain world, we've found there are a couple of issues that keep cropping up like something out of "Groundhog Day." One is the deteriorating state of the nation's infrastructure; the other is the chronic shortage of truck drivers.
Although various groups have floated solutions over the years, none has taken hold. Still, we must remain hopeful that there can be some resolution.
It remains to be seen what—if anything—the federal government will do regarding infrastructure. Despite all the talk about its being a top Washington priority, we have yet to see anything concrete. However, there is cause for hope that Congress will finally take action to ease the pain of the driver crunch.
Should that happen, it would be an epic breakthrough. The driver shortage has plagued the trucking industry since before anyone reading this was born, and probably before your parents were born. (Published accounts of freight haulers' struggles to find competent and willing drivers can be traced at least as far back as 1914.) It has now reached what some consider to be crisis proportions. According to data released by the American Trucking Associations (ATA) in March, the turnover rate at large fleets averaged 89 percent last year, while the rate at smaller carriers averaged 73 percent.
All this goes a long way toward explaining the hoopla surrounding the DRIVE-Safe Act, a bipartisan bill aimed at easing the nation's shortage of truck drivers. The measure, whose co-sponsors include both Democrats and Republicans, was reintroduced in the U.S. Senate and House on Feb. 26. (DRIVE is an acronym for Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy.)
The bill would lift age restrictions that prevent under-21 drivers from crossing state lines. While 48 states permit 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—a restriction the ATA says keeps many prospective drivers from seeking jobs in interstate trucking. The DRIVE-Safe Act would allow certified CDL holders already permitted to drive intrastate to operate a commercial vehicle in interstate commerce after completing a rigorous apprenticeship program.
The bill has attracted a broad coalition of supporters. In addition to the ATA, backers include the National Association of Manufacturers, National Retail Federation, Retail Industry Leaders Association, and some 40 other national trade associations and companies.
"The strong bipartisan, bicameral support behind this legislation demonstrates how real a threat the driver shortage presents to our nation's economic security over the long term—and how serious our lawmakers are about addressing it with common-sense solutions," said ATA president and CEO Chris Spear in a statement. "There is growing understanding across the country that the impact of this issue reaches far beyond just trucking. 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."
Common sense tells us that this measure should be enacted as law, but history robs us of the hope it will solve the driver shortage. Three decades of Groundhog Days will do that to a business journalist.