DRIVE-Safe Act’s merits debated at Senate hearing

February 7, 2020

Mark Schremmer

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One of the many issues receiving attention at a recent Senate subcommittee hearing on trucking was whether or not drivers under the age of 21 should be allowed to operate a commercial motor vehicle across state lines.

Touted as a way to end the purported driver shortage, the DRIVE-Safe Act would allow 18- to 20-year-old truckers to operate in interstate commerce.

During the Feb. 4 Senate Transportation and Safety Subcommittee hearing titled “Keep on Truckin’: Stakeholder Perspectives on Trucking in America,” OOIDA and the Truck Safety Coalition spoke against the bill, while the American Truck Associations offered its support.

Driver shortage?

OOIDA’s first argument against the DRIVE-Safe Act is that the reason for the bill is false. The Association has long contended that there is no driver shortage, pointing to turnover rates of 90% or more for large motor carriers. OOIDA 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 working conditions.

“Contrary to what other associations repeat, constantly, there is no driver shortage,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Lewie Pugh told lawmakers at the hearing. “The notion of a driver shortage isn’t supported by facts, data or reputable research. In other words, it’s a myth. We oppose this bill because it’s a solution in search of a problem, and we urge Congress to reject it.”

In addition, a report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said 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.

According to an ATA report, driver turnover for large fleets reached 96% in the third quarter of 2019. The same report said that large carriers reduced the number of drivers they employed because of a lackluster level of freight.

Safety concerns with the DRIVE-Safe Act

Without a driver shortage, OOIDA contends there is little justification for lowering the driving age if highway safety is the goal.

“The DRIVE-Safe Act, presents obvious safety concerns for the new truck drivers it hopes to attract, as well as the traveling public who would share the road with them,” OOIDA submitted in its written testimony. “Younger drivers – especially teenagers – generally lack the maturity and experience to operate a commercial motor vehicle at the safest levels.

“Research indicates CMV drivers under the age of 19 are four times more likely to be involved in fatal crashes than all truck drivers, and CMV drivers between the ages of 19-20 are six times more likely to be involved in fatal crashes compared to all truck drivers. The DRIVE-Safe Act would allow these young drivers to make cross-country trips, requiring them to drive in terrain and weather conditions they may find completely unfamiliar.”

Dawn King, president of the Truck Safety Coalition, also said that lowering the driving age would be a detriment to highway safety.

“There is ample research available that shows teen drivers have significantly higher crash rates and are less safe than older drivers,” King said. “There is absolutely no evidence that introducing teen drivers will in any way improve safety.”

Proponents of the DRIVE-Safe Act

However, the opposition hasn’t appeared to prevent the momentum for the DRIVE-Safe Act.

As of Feb. 7, the bill had 132 co-sponsors in the House and 34 in the Senate. Five members of the Congress have shown their support for the bipartisan bill since the start of the year, while one member of the Senate has done so. The House needs 218 votes to pass a bill, while 51 are needed in the Senate.

“The driver shortage is real, as the nation is short 60,800 truck drivers today, and the over the next decade will need to hire nearly 1.1 million total new drivers to account for increasing demand and the industry’s aging workforce,” ATA President Chris Spear submitted in his written testimony. “This legislation is a commonsense solution that eliminates the obsolete regulatory barriers preventing capable, qualified Americans from entering the trucking workforce.”

OOIDA said the goal isn’t to relieve a driver shortage but to create a new supply of cheap labor.

“We will continue to dispel the driver shortage myth and oppose bills like the DRIVE-Safe Act that are built upon it,” OOIDA wrote. “This proposal jeopardizes driver and highway safety in an effort to provide corporate motor carriers the cheap labor they crave.”

Mark Schremmer

Mark Schremmer, senior 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 more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.