Two freight industry groups are supporting a bipartisan bill in Congress that would help alleviate a chronic truck driver workforce shortage by supporting new career pathways and training standards and by loosening U.S. Department of Transportation regulations.
That support comes from the American Trucking Associations (ATA) and the International Foodservice Distributors Association (IFDA), who back the DRIVE Safe Integrity Act, introduced by Representatives Rick Crawford (R-Alabama) and Henry Cuellar (D-Texas).
According to the ATA and IFDA, the new bill builds upon strong, bipartisan support for the DRIVE Safe Act over the last few Congresses and the inclusion of the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program in the bipartisan infrastructure law. The 2021 infrastructure law included a nationwide pilot program modeled after the DRIVE Safe Act to create a pathway for young drivers to operate interstate with rigorous safety and training guardrails in place. ATA says that Save Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program was capped at 3,000 participating drivers at any one time, but fewer than a dozen driver participants have enrolled.
In the ATA’s view, that shortage of participation is partly due to “extraneous USDOT requirements for program participation that were not included in the bipartisan infrastructure law.” The proposed DRIVE Safe Integrity Act would urge DOT to take corrective actions and provide progress reports to Congress.
And upon the sunset of the pilot program, the new bill would direct DOT to review the safety data and issue regulations for a permanent apprenticeship program for commercial drivers between the ages of 18-20.
“By directing DOT to steer the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program back to the course Congress originally intended and providing a path forward to a new trucking workforce to safely enter the workforce, this bill will ensure our industry has the talent it needs to meet the economy’s growing freight demands in the years to come,” ATA President and CEO Chris Spear said in a release.
Other voices in the sector argue that the purported shortage of drivers is simply a function of inefficient operations such as half-filled trucks and of high turnover triggered by frustrating working conditions like loading delays, nights spent away from home, and mediocre wages.
But the ATA has long held that the trucking industry is facing a shortage of more than 78,000 truck drivers, coupled with a need to hire 1.2 million new drivers over the next decade to meet increasing freight demands
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