In this era of deep polarization, it seems as if Americans can’t agree on much of anything. In fact, research shows that Americans are more divided than any time in recent history. But an astounding 86 percent of respondents in a recent poll support legislation to help fix the truck driver shortage currently crippling delivery schedules and increasing the cost of commerce in the United States. Where Americans are united, policymakers should take note.
The DRIVE-Safe Act, introduced at the end of February with strong bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, aims to reform outdated commercial driver’s-license limitations which keep the next generation of drivers out of the job pool.
First, let’s break down what the real problem is: Right now, young adults ages 18 to 20 can get a CDL, but federal law prohibits them from crossing state lines. Because this is too prohibitive for employers, they do not seek out or hire drivers under the age of 21. We aren’t talking about letting any teenager behind the wheel. The DRIVE-Safe Act would provide opportunities to professional drivers ages 18 to 20 to master their chosen vocation through a rigorous training program combined with real-world driving experience under the guidance of a mentor. Safety technologies and training standards have advanced several orders of magnitude since the current minimum age for interstate drivers hit the books decades ago.
Also, a rule standardizing the quality and curriculum of pre-CDL training for entry level drivers is set to take effect next year. That rule, plus modern technology and the additional safety and training requirements in the DRIVE-Safe Act add up to the age restriction warranting a rewrite.
The current age restriction does nothing to enhance safety and everything to push young adults into other professions, such as construction or retail, neither of which offer the same salary and benefit opportunities.
The economic impacts of the current driver shortage — a combination of retirements plus increasing demand for deliveries in accordance with today’s modern expectations for transport of goods — will hit consumers the hardest as manufacturers and retailers increase their prices to pay a premium for faster delivery. Also, the current restriction prevents our industry — food service distribution — from making jobs available to the nearly five million young adults in the country who are neither employed nor in school. These are jobs that historically pay well — an average income of around $63,000 per year in food service distribution — and often offer health and retirement benefits.
At age 18, 19, or 20, you can vote. You can enlist in the armed services. You can get married. But you can’t drive professionally interstate or apply for a job that could firmly position you in the middle class.
Bolstered by misleading and incomplete data that doesn’t take into account the full breadth of the trucking industry, some contend the truck driver shortage does not exist. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, it is estimated that the industry will need to fill nearly 900,000 jobs over the next decade to keep up with demand. Those signs posted prominently on the back ends of trucks trying to recruit drivers are for real. And creating high standards on who qualifies as a driver ensures everyone on the road that only the best make it behind the wheel.
I happen to believe that many 18- to 20-year-olds would come out of rigorous training meeting our high standards. Which is why it’s frustrating that some safety advocates use outdated talking points to erroneously claim younger drivers cause more fatalities; their arguments are cherry-picked from a single, non-governmental study published 28 years ago. There is no evidence to suggest young adults make careless truck drivers. If anything, the rising generation of adults come to us more comfortable with computers and technology than older drivers who had to learn on the job.
Nine in 10 Americans agree: The age restriction on drivers is past due for an overhaul. Now it’s time for Congress to pass, and the president to sign, the DRIVE-Safe Act.
Mark Allen is the President & CEO of the International Foodservice Distributors Association.
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