‘From high school hallways to high-speed highways’

July 15, 2021

Mark Schremmer

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The DRIVE-Safe Act is not the answer to the trucking industry’s driver retention problem, according to the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

The bill, S659, was introduced by Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., and is meant as a solution for those who claim there is a shortage of truck drivers. The current minimum age to operate a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce is 21. The DRIVE-Safe Act would allow drivers as young as 18 to cross state lines.

Such proposals must be rejected, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety President Cathy Chase said last week during a roundtable discussion hosted by the U.S. Department of Transportation and U.S. Department of Labor to discuss driver recruitment and retention.

“Do not pull teens from high school hallways to put them on high-speed highways,” Chase said.

Rather than getting teenagers started in long-haul trucking, many of the industry stakeholders participating in the roundtable said the conversation should be focused on improving driver pay and working conditions. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration cited turnover rates of more than 90% for large long-haul carriers.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has contended for decades that there is not a driver shortage and that problems with retention can be alleviated by paying more and by making trucking a more attractive profession.

“It’s generally 60, 70, 80 hours and sometimes more of actual work,” OOIDA President Todd Spencer said during the roundtable discussion. “And then there’s more time that goes along with it. So, yeah, it’s a very, very demanding job. And realistically, the economic rewards haven’t kept up for the last 40 years since our industry was deregulated.”

OOIDA also is an opponent of the DRIVE-Safe Act.

In June, a coalition, including OOIDA, the Teamsters and Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, wrote to leaders of a Senate subcommittee on transportation about the dangers involved with lowering the age for long-haul truck drivers.

“Studies of young CMV drivers show that as the age of the driver decreases, large truck fatal crash involvement rates increase,” the coalition wrote.

The groups cited studies that indicate commercial motor vehicle drivers age 19-20 are six times more likely to be involved in fatal crashes than all truck drivers.

“Additionally, a 2015 public opinion poll commissioned by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety showed that 73% of the public opposed allowing teen truck and bus drivers to operate a CMV in interstate commerce,” the coalition wrote.

The American Trucking Associations used its turn at the roundtable discussion to continue to advocate for the DRIVE-Safe Act.

“We believe there is a way to identify and train younger drivers to operate in interstate commerce safely,” said Bill Sullivan, ATA executive vice president for advocacy.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, however, compared the industry’s woes to a “leaky bucket,” saying adding more drivers won’t help unless the real problems are addressed.

“It strikes me that another way to think of it is something of a leaky bucket, and that no matter how many people we pour into the industry for a moment, it’s not going to do us much good unless the jobs are reliable enough, secure enough and stable enough that people want to remain within the industry,” Buttigieg said. LL

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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.