DRIVE-Safe Act touted as way to fight driver shortage

November 1, 2019

Mark Schremmer

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Despite a federal report that says there is no driver shortage, the claims of there being a lack of truck drivers has fueled a bill – the DRIVE-Safe Act –that would allow younger drivers to operate in interstate commerce.

The DRIVE-Safe Act would allow 18-to-20-year-old truck drivers to cross state lines. It now has 122 co-sponsors in the House and 33 in the Senate. The House version, HR1374, introduced by Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, R-Ind., and the Senate version, S569, introduced by Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., were pitched as a way to combat the nation’s shortage of truck drivers.

The bills would create an apprenticeship program for under-21 drivers that would require them to undergo a probationary period of at least 240 driving hours with an experienced driver before they could operate on their own.

“This apprenticeship program will address the driver shortage, create new career opportunities for young Hoosiers, and substantially raise training standards to ensure safety on the roads,” Sen. Young said in a news release when the bill was introduced in February.

The approach has seemed to work. One hundred Republicans and 22 Democrats support the DRIVE_Safe Act in the House, and 28 Republicans, four Democrats and one independent have signed on to the Senate version.

In October alone, Reps. Tom Rice, R-S.C.; Fred Upton, R-Mich.; Ron Kind, D-Wis.; Guy Reschenthaler, R-Pa.; and David Scott, D-Ga.; became co-sponsors in the House, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., pledged support in the Senate. In the House, 218 votes are needed to pass a bill, and 51 are needed in the Senate.

Federal report

Momentum for the bills haven’t slowed despite a report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that said the evidence does not support the theory of a labor shortage within the trucking industry and that increasing wages could alleviate any issues with recruitment and retention.

“As a whole, the market for truck drivers appears to work as well as any other blue-collar labor market, and, while it tends to be ‘tight,’ it imposes no constraints on entry into (or exit from) the occupation,” the March report stated. “There is thus no reason to think that, given sufficient time, driver supply should fail to respond to price signals in the standard way.”

OOIDA’s view

OOIDA has long refuted the claims of a driver shortage, pointing to turnover rates of 90% or more for large motor carriers. The Association says the turnover rates indicate that the big fleets are able to find qualified CDL holders every year, but they are unable to keep them, often because of low pay and poor working conditions.

“I really can’t think of a worse response to the myth of a driver shortage than to lower the driving age or reduce the already low standard to get a CDL,” OOIDA President Todd Spencer said at a House subcommittee meeting in June. “This is really a highway safety issue. What’s not a myth is that new drivers crash more often and that younger drivers crash more often. There is no substitute to experience when it comes to safety and doing things that help perpetuate the churn for driver turnover is not only counterproductive to safety, but it undermines the economics of all drivers.”

The Advocates for Highway Safety and the Teamsters are among the other groups who oppose the DRIVE-Safe Act.

Mark Schremmer

Mark Schremmer, associate editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and nearly two decades of journalism experience to our staff.