Our entire supply chain is out of wack. Ports are backed up for weeks and there aren’t enough truckers to move freight across the country. The American Trucking Association has partnered with over 100 other organizations to push for a fix to the massive truck driver shortage. Their answer: Let the young’uns drive big rigs.
The DRIVE safe act was first introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2019, where it didn’t really go anywhere. The bill “...directs the Department of Transportation to promulgate regulations to implement an apprenticeship program for licensed commercial motor vehicle drivers under the age of 21.”
There was already a trucker shortage to the tune of 61,000 drivers back in 2019 when the legislature tabled the bill, according to the ATA. In 2021, things are a little more dire than they were when the bill was introduced, before COVID-19 turned the world upside down. More people at home and avoiding stores meant even more shipping. The aging truck driving workforce hasn’t helped things. What’s needed is some new blood behind the wheel, according to the ATA:
The truck driver shortage is expected to grow worse in the coming years as more drivers move into retirement and the demand for freight transportation increases. Over the next decade, it’s projected that the trucking industry will need to hire roughly 1.1 million new drivers, or an average of nearly 110,000 per year, to keep up with demand. The federal ban on interstate commerce for under-21 drivers is a major impediment to recruitment, as local in-state routes are generally reserved for seniority.
While people under 21 can get their CDL in 49 states, they can’t cross state lines under federal law until they are 21. The DRIVE safe act, which was reintroduced into the House and Senate with bipartisan support this month, would seek to change that law. The bill would require a two-step apprenticeship for younger drivers before they’re able to drive across state lines. Younger drivers would need 400 hours of on-duty time and 240 hours of driving time under the watchful eye of an experienced trucker before they could graduate to interstate trucking. They would also be required to train on trucks with the latest safety and monitoring equipment, outfitted with governors that keep trucks at or under 65 mph.
Seems like a good deal, get badly needed younger drivers into the industry and give kids a way to make a good living without going into college debt. However, it’s well-know that teenagers are already not the best drivers. Car crashes are still the number one cause of death to American teens at 2,375 in 2019. The number of fatalities in crashes that simply involved a teen are even higher, at 4,356 deaths in 2019, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Though fatalities due to teen drivers have been dropping, that could be attributed to teens getting their licenses later in life. In 1983, 80 percent of 18-year-olds had licenses, in 2018, that rate dropped to 60 percent, according to data from the Federal Highway Administration.
Fatality rates also go up depending on the size of vehicle involved in the crash. While 4,119 people died in big truck crashes in 2019, only 16 percent were the trucker themselves. The largest percentage of people who died in large truck crashes, 67 percent, were occupants of cars and other passenger vehicles while 15 percent were pedestrians, bicyclists or motorcyclists, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The last ten years saw a 31 percent increase in deaths caused by large truck crashes.
Truckers are desperately needed to keep our country running. But truckers also face problems like dealing day-to-day with our garbage infrastructure and often drive long, punishing hauls. We’ll see if the additional training requirements and economic pressures are enough to get lawmakers behind the change.