A pair of legislators introduced a new House bill this past March aimed at helping address the trucking industry’s chronic driver shortage. The Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy (DRIVE-Safe) Act will make it possible for 18-21-year-old drivers to cross state lines as long as certain conditions are met first. The DRIVE-Safe Act is an example of give-and-take legislation in that various parties had to compromise to get the bill on the table.
At the heart of the bill is the current federal rule that prohibits CDL drivers under the age of 21 from crossing state lines. In other words, drivers have to be 21 years old to engage in interstate driving despite having earned a CDL. This restriction is believed to artificially suppress driver recruitment due to the fact that local and regional jobs do not pay as well as over-the-road opportunities. Younger drivers do not necessarily want to wait the extra time to start earning better money.
Removing the age barrier is expected to open the door to a significant number of younger drivers who want to start working over-the-road right away. If the bill becomes law, it will not be without compromise. It comes at a cost to younger drivers and their employers.
New Requirements under the Law
The law, as currently written, places separate burdens on both drivers and employers. Where drivers are concerned, those younger than 21 will have to undergo additional training by way of a two-phase program with subsequent probationary periods following each phase. Drivers will have to accumulate 400 hours of on-duty time and another 240 hours of driving time with a trainer in the cab. They will not be allowed to drive across state lines until this requirement is met.
Where employers are concerned, the bill requires them to use trucks equipped with a number of safety technologies for training younger drivers. Those technologies include speed governors, active braking systems, and live video capture to keep track of what drivers are doing behind the wheel.
The effects of the new requirements will weigh more heavily on employers than drivers. Employers will have to bear the financial burden of both additional training and the safety equipment necessary to meet their obligations. Those willing to invest the extra money will be rewarded with well-trained drivers who can then increase their interstate capabilities.
Merely a Starting Point
A number of industry trade organizations support passage of the federal legislation. That’s fine. If the bill actually does make it to law, it should be merely a starting point. Our industry needs a lot more action if we are to make a serious dent in the driver shortage. This law is a good first step, but it will not solve the problem alone.
Washington and the various state legislators could go one step further by giving as much attention to truck driving as they do STEM careers. Right now, truck driving is viewed by the average young person as a career of last resort. They hear so much about college degrees and STEM programs that many of them think higher education is the only way to go. But it’s not. There are plenty of students for whom college is not a good fit. Trucking is a viable alternative that pays well and offers steady employment.
The DRIVE-Safe Act is a splendid example of give-and-take legislation. Washington appears willing to relax its prohibition against interstate drivers under age 21 while the industry is willing to invest in additional training and safety equipment to get more drivers on the road. Hopefully it works.