Opinion: How the DRIVE-Safe Act Could End the Driver Shortage
The persistent truck driver shortage is the industry’s top overall concern — and for good reason.
Multiple reports from American Trucking Associations and other sources cite statistics that as many as 1 million drivers and technicians are needed within the next decade to replace an aging workforce and keep up with industry demand.
Much has been said about this dire outlook but certain industry and government leaders are taking proactive steps to effect change.
ATA formed a Workforce Development Committee in late 2017. Early this year, the group contributed language to a bill called the DRIVE-Safe Act. The bill was introduced in the House of Representatives and the Senate, receiving considerable bipartisan support. Designed to deliver a real solution to the problems of the driver shortage, it has a strong chance to make a real impact.
Although the DRIVE-Safe Act didn’t make it to a vote this year, it is expected to be reintroduced in 2019 with even more support and resolve to get it passed. There are plenty of challenges, however, primarily with educating the public on the significant safety-related focus of the bill.
Outlined below are the act’s core components and why they spell out optimism for the trucking industry.
Opportunities for 18- to 20-Year-Olds
As college costs rise, trade industries are being viewed in a new light. Why should young adults submit themselves to thousands in student loan debt when they could enter a trade profession with less time spent on education? Trade professions are viable options for young adults not looking to attend a traditional four-year school or university.
Currently, drivers under the age of 21 cannot legally drive a commercial motor vehicle across state lines. These drivers are able to receive their CDL license but must stay within state lines, operating intrastate, making it difficult for interstate carriers to enter into long-term, valuable relationships with them.
Although a commercial interstate driver currently must be at least 21, the average age of a new entrant to the industry is nearly 30. These complications are resolved, however, with the DRIVE-Safe Act, enabling younger drivers to earn their CDL through an apprenticeship program. This way, younger drivers have immediate access to a great career path in the trucking industry. And we need to take action, as the average age of a truck driver today is 55.
Industry committees and legislative efforts are important; they open conversation and education about a topic that many may not be aware of. They can raise awareness with young professionals on what a vital role truck driving plays in the U.S. economy.
Steady, Middle-Class Income
According to ATA President Chris Spear, this bill is a direct response to the growing need of drivers in the industry as well as to the widening gap in America’s middle class. Driving is a sustainable way for many people to earn a steady middle-class income but many prospective candidates are lost because they choose different career paths after high school.
With the DRIVE-Safe Act, recruiters and carriers can start to engage and educate potential drivers early in their career, making it easier to retain talent down the road. This legislation would turn commercial driving into a full-fledged career path, making it more attractive to new candidates entering the workforce looking for a rewarding career.
In addition, with more new drivers coming through an apprenticeship program as defined in the DRIVE-Safe Act, carriers will have more opportunities to grow their business and meet the increasing demand of our booming economy. Drivers also will have access to new opportunities for career development starting from a younger age.
This legislation is unique both in its innovation in the industry and its dedication to the future generation of drivers. The time is now for trucking industry leaders to become involved in supporting the DRIVE-Safe Act.
Jeremy Reymer has been an engaged member of the trucking industry for more than 15 years, having owned a CDL driver-staffing company and a small truckload carrier. His commitment to being a part of the solution to the driver shortage led to his founding of DriverReach in 2016, a modern driver-recruiting management solution.