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How the DRIVE-Safe Act could impact the driver shortage

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Whether you call it a driver shortage or a driver squeeze, it’s no secret that the trucking industry is struggling to attract and keep qualified drivers. Spireon hosted a webinar in collaboration with FreightWaves earlier this week to explore how the DRIVE-Safe Act could affect the driver shortage if it becomes law.

The American Trucking Associations estimated that there are roughly 500,000 over-the-road for-hire truckload drivers. The ATA also estimated that segment of the industry is currently over 50,000 drivers short, and that number is projected to balloon as high as 175,00 by 2026.

“We’re really talking about around 10 percent of that segment of the industry. It’s a significant number. It is greater than just a couple percentage points in the most affected part of the industry,” Scopelitis Transportation Consulting President David Osiecki said. “There are certainly a lot of market factors. There are regulatory and legislative and policy factors. There are broad economic factors that could influence whether this trend forecast holds, but the ATA predicts [the driver shortage] will get worse and significantly worse.”

Osiecki pointed to several underlying factors for the driver shortage, including competition both inside and outside the industry, workplace demographics and driver qualifications and requirements, like age minimums.

“Age is certainly a limiting factor in our industry because we don’t get the young kids coming out of high school who choose not to go to college, don’t want to go to college, can’t go to college,” he said. “We lose them, and we don’t get them back until they may decide the career choice they’ve picked is really not for them. Our population is aging, and we’re not backfilling with the younger folks, in part because we can’t, given the age limitations.”

One option being considered to recruit younger drivers and address the industry’s aging workforce is the DRIVE-Safe Act, which is currently being considered in both the House and the Senate.

If approved, the DRIVE-Safe Act would allow drivers between the ages of 18 and 20 with CDLs to operate in interstate commerce under some restrictions. It would require drivers to complete a two-part apprenticeship. Employers would decide if drivers pass each portion of the apprenticeship based on performance in required skill sets, according to the webinar.

Part one: 120-hour probationary period, with at least 80 driving hours. Performance benchmarks include:

  1. Interstate, city, rural, two-way and evening driving

  2. Safety awareness

  3. Speed and space management

  4. Lane control

  5. Mirror scanning

  6. Turning

  7. Logging and hours-of service compliance

Part two: 280-hour probationary period, with at least 160 hours of driving time. Performance benchmarks include:

  1. Backing and maneuvering

  2. Pre-trips

  3. Fueling

  4. Weighing loads and sliding tandems

  5. Coupling/uncoupling

  6. Turning

  7. Trip planning

Under the DRIVE-Safe Act, young drivers will also be subject to a certain set of restrictions on the vehicles they can operate and the commodities they can haul.

Additional restrictions include:

  1. Driver must be accompanied by an “experienced driver” during both probationary periods

  2. No hazmat

  3. Automatic and automatic manual transmissions

  4. Active braking system

  5. Forward-facing camera

  6. Speed governed at 65 mph or less

The DRIVE-Safe Act was introduced to the House in March, where it enjoyed bipartisan support and currently has 74 co-sponsors. It was introduced to the Senate in August, and currently only has five republican co-sponsors.

If the act makes its way through Congress, it will still need to receive the president’s stamp of approval before becoming law.

Osiecki noted that there have been discussions about involving adults under 21 in the industry in the past, and those have not historically been successful. This puts a lot of pressure on the DRIVE-Safe Act to prove it provides a safe way to bring young drivers into the fold.

“It’s got a pretty tough road ahead. There are simply not many legislative days left in 2018. Both the House and Senate are out now, and they’re not coming back until after the November election. When they do, they’ll have a relatively short few weeks to address lots of issues, including important issues like keeping the federal government open,” he said. “It’s not likely to happen in 2018. In my opinion, it also has a slim chance of passage in 2019, but it certainly could. The chance for passage of the DRIVE-Safe Act gets even slimmer in a scenario where one or both of the houses of Congress flips, and you know the issue there is, a lot of democrats have a lot of these highway safety groups as their constituency, and I just think that they would listen to some of the pushback they’re going to get.”

The FAST Act, which passed in 2015, requires the Department of Transportation to conduct pilot programs on feasibility, benefits and safety impacts of allowing certain drivers under 21 to operate in interstate commerce. Those drivers, however, must meet very specific criteria, and complete date for the pilot programs is projected to be about five years out.

Drivers participating in that pilot program must be between the ages of 18 and 20, a member or former member of the armed forces and be qualified in a military occupational specialty to operate a CMV or similar vehicle. The program is aiming for 200 participants.

“That’s a pretty narrow band of people. The question is, will they be able to find 200 people that fit and are willing to participate in this pilot program?” Osiecki said. “The program is scheduled to begin in January 2019. It runs for about a year, then there will be an interim report to Congress mid-2020. They would continue data collection beyond that, and they would issue a final report in 2023. So really, the point here is that if anyone is expecting a younger driver pilot program that is administratively handled by DOT to provide relief in this area anytime soon, I think that’s probably not the place to be.”

The webinar also addressed other issues, including new standards coming to the industry over the next couple years and how to enforce performance standards.

Ashley Coker

Ashley is interested in everything that moves, especially trucks and planes. She covers air cargo, trucking and sponsored content. She studied journalism at Middle Tennessee State University and worked as an editor and reporter at two daily newspapers before joining FreightWaves. Ashley spends her free time at the dog park with her beagle, Ruth, or scouring the internet for last minute flight deals.