The American Supply Association is part of a coalition of more than 100 entities showing strong support for the DRIVE-Safe Act (S.659, H.R. 1745) and urging its inclusion in forthcoming legislation.

As the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure begin their work on a major infrastructure legislative package and/or surface transportation authorization bill, ASA is a major proponent of this legislation, which garnered the support of more than one-third of the House and Senate in the 116th Congress, and will address the nation’s growing truck driver shortage by promoting opportunity and enhanced safety training for emerging members of the transportation workforce.

The coalition provided its thoughts to Maria Cantwell (chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce Science & Transportation), Roger Wicker (ranking member, Senate Committee on Commerce Science & Transportation), Peter DeFazio (chair, House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure) and Sam Graves (ranking member, House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure), urging them to include the act in their committees’ forthcoming infrastructure legislation and/or surface transportation reauthorization bill.

Although 49 states and the District of Columbia currently allow individuals under the age of 21 to obtain a commercial driver’s license and operate in intrastate commerce, these same individuals are prohibited from driving a truck across state lines until they turn 21. The DRIVE-Safe Act would change this through a rigorous two-step apprenticeship program that creates a path for these drivers to enter the industry. As the name implies, however, the legislation’s first priority is safety. In order to qualify, candidates must complete at least 400 hours of additional training — more than what is required for any other CDL holder in the nation.

In fact, 70% of the nation’s freight is carried by commercial trucks, and while demand is projected to increase over the next decade, the threat posed by the driver shortage stands to disrupt the continuity of the supply chain, the coalition noted. This is especially problematic as the nation and its economy recover from the monumental impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a recent estimate, the trucking industry needs an additional 60,800 truck drivers immediately — a deficit that is expected to grow to more than 160,000 by 2028. In fact, when anticipated driver retirement numbers are combined with the expected growth in capacity, the trucking industry will need to hire roughly 1.1 million new drivers over the next decade, or an average of nearly 110,000 per year.

The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the truck driver shortage, and the temporary closures of state DMVs and truck driver training schools dried up the already fragile pipeline of new drivers entering the trucking industry. And as a result of the already-crippling driver shortage, companies in supply chains across the economy are facing higher transportation costs, leading to increased prices for consumers on everything from electronics to food.

As a testament to the safety considerations underpinning the DRIVE-Safe Act, all qualified drivers who participate in the apprenticeship program established by the bill would only be allowed to drive trucks outfitted with the latest safety technology, including active braking collision mitigation systems, forward-facing event recording cameras, speed limiters set at 65 miles per hour or less, and automatic or automatic-manual transmissions. Professional drivers training within the program are also required to be accompanied by an experienced driver throughout the process.

The DRIVE-Safe Act will help the nation’s freight continue to move, while preserving and enhancing the safety of the nation’s highway system, the coalition stressed. It will help fill desperately needed jobs and provide younger Americans with the opportunity to enter a profession with a median salary of $54,585, plus health and retirement benefits, it added. It also will bolster and support the nation’s supply chain, which is an issue of heightened urgency as the nation recovers from the pandemic.