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Trucking urges Congress to pass DRIVE-Safe Act

April 21, 2021
The bipartisan bill aims to allow individuals under the age of 21 to be able to cross state lines through a two-step apprenticeship program.

As the world continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, trucking leaders are continuing to advocate for the most important issues impacting the industry. On April 14, 117 organizations, representing the agriculture, manufacturing, retail, food service and trucking sectors of the U.S. supply chain, sent a letter to transportation leaders in Congress urging passage of the DRIVE-Safe Act, legislation that can help remedy the growing driver shortage.

Currently, 49 states and Washington D.C. allow individuals under the age of 21 to obtain a commercial driver’s license (must be 21 in New York) and operate commercial vehicles in intrastate commerce. However, these same individuals are prohibited by federal law from driving a truck across state lines until they turn 21. 

The DRIVE-Safe Act would launch a two-step apprenticeship program to allow drivers to participate in interstate commerce. In order to qualify, candidates must complete at least 400 hours of additional training—far beyond what is required of any other CDL holder in the nation. Secondly, all qualified drivers participating in the apprenticeship program would be accompanied by an experienced driver in the cab and would only be allowed to drive trucks outfitted with the latest safety technology, including active braking collision mitigation systems, forward-facing dash cams, speed limiters set at 65 mph or lower, and automatic or automatic-manual transmissions. 

In the letter, supply chain leaders cite the impact that the driver shortage is having on their operations, the transportation of goods as well as consumer prices:

As 70% of the nation’s freight is carried by commercial trucks, the threat posed by the driver shortage stands to disrupt the continuity of the supply chain while demand is projected to increase over the next decade.

According to a recent estimate, the trucking industry needs an additional 60,800 truck drivers immediately—a deficit that is expected to grow to more than 160,000 by 2028. In fact, when anticipated driver retirement numbers are combined with the expected growth in capacity, the trucking industry will need to hire roughly 1.1 million new drivers over the next decade, or an average of nearly 110,000 per year.

The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the truck driver shortage, and the temporary closures of state DMV’s and truck driver training schools dried up the already fragile pipeline of new drivers entering the trucking industry.

And as a result of the already crippling driver shortage, companies in supply chains across the economy are facing higher transportation costs, leading to increased prices for consumers on everything from electronics to food.

The DRIVE Safe Act was originally introduced on March 20 by House Reps. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) and Trey Hollingsworth (R-Ind.) to not only address the driver shortage but also promote enhanced safety training for emerging members of the trucking workforce.

“This is a common-sense proposal that will open enormous opportunities for the 18-21 year-old population, giving them access to a high-paying profession free of the debt burden that comes with a four-year degree,” said Chris Spear, president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations (ATA). “Moreover, this bill would strengthen training programs beyond current requirements to ensure safety and that drivers are best prepared.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) voiced its concerns regarding this legislation on Nov. 9, 2020 to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in its submitted comments on the then-pilot program for under-21 drivers.

“When it comes to highway safety, the data is clear – younger drivers and inexperienced drivers crash more,” said Todd Spencer, president and CEO of OOIDA. “Research has shown that most drivers under the age of 21…lack the general maturity, skill and judgment that is necessary in handling commercial motor vehicles.

“Other studies have shown that the prefrontal cortex, which is the portion of the brain responsible for complex cognitive behavior and decision making, does not fully develop until the mid-20s and that adults are better equipped to recognize errors in decision making,” Spencer explained. “Given this existing data, we firmly believe that licensing under-21 drivers for interstate commerce will result in more crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving large trucks.”

The letter, however, reiterated that “as the name implies, the legislation’s first priority is safety.” 

Recently, trucking companies have been implementing safety training and driver incentive recruiting strategies to draw interested parties to the commercial vehicle driving profession.

In February, Yellow Corporation revealed that it will be filling 1,500 commercial driver positions to its roster while reminding those of the 12 Yellow Driving Academies that are available across the U.S. for those who want to obtain their commercial driver’s license (CDL).

According to Yellow, classroom instruction combined with in-cab skills training is provided by Yellow’s longest serving, most experienced driving professionals. 

“At a time when many Americans are looking to start a new career, Yellow is in hire mode,” said Darren Hawkins, Yellow CEO. “Our men and women are heroes. At the beginning of the pandemic as well as today, they’re getting American families and businesses the goods they need. Our freight professionals serve as the economic lifeline to nearly every community in America. These are good jobs with competitive benefits in a community near you.”

On April 7, Knight-Swift Transportation Holdings announced a number of changes in its operations, including a number of pay increases for drivers and independent contractors.

“In addition to multiple pay increases and incentives over the last six months, effective the first week of April, over-the-road company drivers at Knight and Swift received another 2 cent per mile pay increase,” the company said. “Depending on individual experience level, experienced drivers can now start above $.50 per mile, and in some regions of the country, certain jobs can start above $.60 per mile.

Knight-Swift also increased contract rates for over-the-road independent contractors by $.03-$.05 per mile, depending on their line of business.

To make their pay increases more enticing to new drivers, the company revealed that individuals who join Knight-Swift through their training programs will have their paychecks increased by 40% or more.

“Over their first year after training to become a professional driver, individuals can choose from multiple paths to earn in excess of $60,000 per year,” Knight-Swift said. “Depending on experience and the frequency of training, drivers who train others to become professional drivers at Knight-Swift can make over $100,000 per year.”

Knight-Swift has also centered its focus on driver incentives by investing over $250 million in facility improvements, such as the comfort and accessibility of lounges and driver amenities.

"Company driver pay increases and Independent Contractor contract rate increases, along with enhancements to bonuses and incentives, have literally put tens of millions more well-deserved dollars into the hard-earned paychecks of our drivers and into the businesses of our Independent Contractor partners,” said David Jackson, CEO of Knight-Swift. “Additionally, we continue to spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year refreshing and advancing our top-of-the-line fleet and in facility enhancements that make our driving jobs safer and more comfortable. These are just a few of the ways we show our appreciation and respect for our professional drivers, and we are far from being done.”

Corporations and industry leaders that signed the letter to Congress include FedEx, Walmart, Nestlé, UPS, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Truckload Carriers Association, and more. 

About the Author

Catharine Conway | Digital Editor

Catharine Conway previously wrote for FleetOwner with a Master of Science in Publishing degree and more than seven years’ experience in the publishing and editorial industries. Based in Stamford, Conn., she was critical to the coordination of any and all digital content organization and distribution through various FleetOwner and American Trucker channels, including website, newsletters, and social media. 

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