At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I want to talk about the driver shortage again. Recent events have once again shown us that the trucking industry is woefully short of drivers and that it is a situation that is not expected to get better any time soon. The American Trucking Associations predicts that over the next decade we will need about 1.1 million drivers—110,000 or so a year.
I am, however, a bit hopeful with the reintroduction of the DRIVE-Safe Act which would allow truck drivers under the age of 21 to drive across state lines once they have completed both safety training and an apprenticeship program. To be clear, these are people who already have their commercial driver' license (CDL) and are already likely driving intrastate.
More specifically, these young people would have to complete 400 hours on on-duty time and 240 hours of driving time while an experienced driver is in the cab with them. There also are rules about how the trucks used in the training program need to be spec’d.
Current federal legislation prohibits CDL holders under the age of 21 from interstate trucking even though they can legally drive commercial vehicles within 49 of the states. I was thinking about how not allowing a 21-year-old to drive across state lines really does not make sense. Think about it: A driver under the age of 21 can drive the whole length of a state like California—a distance of 1040 miles—or the entire width of the state of Texas—773 miles from east to west—but can’t drive the 182 miles from Crescent City, California to Klamath Falls, Oregon or the 59 miles from Beaumont, Texas to Lake Charles, Louisiana. That just does not make sense to me.
Many people have made good livings as truck drivers and the recent pandemic proved to the public just how essential trucking and, by extension, truck drivers are to our economy and our lives.
Now is the time to take action to get more young people into the industry at a time when people in the country are feeling good about trucking and parents may be more inclined to support their son’s or daughter’s desire to pursue a career as a trucker.
Trucking also has a lot of exciting things going on technology-wise that should pique the interest of young people who grew up with technology and expect to use it in their jobs. Today’s diesel trucks are high-tech with the sensors and advanced driver assistance systems. And then, of course, there is all the work that is being done on electric vehicles, which are not only full of technology but also are better for the environment; taking care of the environment is high on the priority list of the younger generation. Being clean and green should be a big selling point on getting these kids to come into trucking.
I don’t know about you, but I am tired of talking about the driver shortage. I want all of us in the industry to do something about it. We need to get out into our communities and tout the benefits of a career as a truck driver highlighting all the “cool” things that are happening in our industry.
We need to revitalize and support tech schools that offer training programs for kids interested in getting their CDLs and then make sure once a young person has their CDL that they get all the extra training, support and coaching they need to be safe on the road, whether they are driving across their state or into a neighboring one. I don’t think being safe behind the wheel is a matter of age. I do think it is a matter of training and being imbued in the safety culture of your fleets.
Let’s get this done.