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March 15, 2021 3:30 PM, EDT

Senators Introduce Trucking Workforce Legislation

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Legislation aimed at training drivers younger than 21 to drive trucks across state lines was recently unveiled by a group of senators.

Led by Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), the Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy, or DRIVE-Safe, Act aims to enhance safety training, as well as employment opportunities for truckers.

Specifically, the bill would establish an apprenticeship program to allow commercial driver license holders under 21 years old to operate commercial motor vehicles in interstate commerce.

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“Today, 18-year-olds can drive more than 200 miles from New Albany to Gary and back, but they aren’t allowed to drive two miles from New Albany to Louisville,” Young said March 10, referencing towns in and around his state. He is a member of the Commerce Committee, which oversees trucking policy. “The DRIVE-Safe Act will eliminate this ridiculous regulation and in doing so address the driver shortage while providing new career opportunities for young Hoosiers.”

There currently is a federal ban on interstate travel for truck drivers under 21.

“Now more than ever, young Montanans need more opportunities to get comprehensive job training, access higher paying work, and grow their careers early on,” added Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), a co-sponsor. “This bipartisan bill will do just that, allowing younger truck drivers to get top-of-the-line apprenticeships that kick their careers into gear, all while providing a big boost to the thousands of communities across the Big Sky who rely almost exclusively on trucks to move goods in and out of the state.”

The bill’s sponsors emphasized its potential economic benefits for the freight supply chain.

For instance, Young noted during a recent committee hearing that a driver shortage could contribute to economic problems nationwide.

“A strong domestic supply chain is essential for a competitive national economy, and the efficiency of the domestic supply chain is contingent upon the efficiency of our transportation networks,” said Young. “I’m concerned about the trucking industry’s growing driver shortage and its impact on the resiliency of our domestic supply chain.”

Young unveiled an earlier version of the legislation during the previous congressional session, but the bill did not advance to the president’s desk.

Young reintroduced the legislation this Congress with fellow sponsors, Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Angus King (I-Maine), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).

Companion legislation was introduced in the House by Rep. Trey Hollingsworth (R-Ind.).

“DRIVE-Safe creates more career opportunities for hard-working Hoosiers to get involved in a growing, 21st-century economy workforce,” said Hollingsworth. “This bill also breaks down barriers for small businesses who want to grow and hire qualified employees.”

Groups such as American Trucking Associations endorsed the legislation. ATA noted that creating a federal apprenticeship for these drivers would enhance the nation’s commercial operations.

“This bill has strong, bipartisan backing because it’s both common sense and pro-safety,” said ATA President Chris Spear. “It raises the bar for training standards and safety technology far above what is asked of the thousands of under-21 drivers who are already legally driving commercial vehicles in 49 states today. The DRIVE-Safe Act is not a path to allow every young person to drive across state lines, but it envisions creating a safety-centered process for identifying, training and empowering the safest, most responsible 18- to 20-year-olds to more fully participate in our industry.”

According to ATA, the industry’s driver shortage is expected to increase over the coming years. Drivers entering retirement as well as the heightened demand for freight are among the contributing factors. Over the next 10 years, the trucking industry will have to hire about 1.1 million new drivers, or an average of nearly 110,000 annually, to keep up with demand, ATA said.

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