Discussions about labor shortages and truck driver safety are common themes at industry conferences, in newsletters, editorials, and even conversations about water coolers – for good reason.

But it is almost as if occupational safety and that of drivers are inversely linked: on the one hand, the relaxation of regulations to facilitate access for truckers is decried as a threat to safety. On the other hand, the industry can only develop if the drivers have more freedom.

Can’t the two problems be treated at the same time?

The Developing Responsible Individuals for a Dynamic Economy (DRIVE-Safe) act seeks to accomplish just that, promoting better further training for drivers while hopefully reducing the driver shortage.

The DRIVE-Safe Act offers a two-step learning process for drivers once they receive a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). The training would require drivers to complete at least 400 hours of service and 240 hours of driving under the supervision of an experienced driver using a shotgun. In addition, drivers would receive training on trucks with the latest safety technologies, including active brake collision mitigation systems, forward-facing video capture and 65 mph pedal cruise control and under adaptive cruise control.

The DRIVE-Safe Act was introduced in 2018, but was reintroduced with bipartisan support in the US House and Senate last month. Its main purpose is to enable drivers between the ages of 18 and 21 to participate in interstate commerce, which this demographic currently cannot do.

This has ruined many opportunities for young drivers, according to Brian Runnels, director of safety at Reliance Partners, who believes carriers could benefit greatly from loosening the leash a bit.

Runnels argues that opening the door to interstate commerce doesn’t necessarily mean young drivers will be granted long-haul jobs. On the contrary, he argues that it will actually present more opportunities near his home.

“Carriers as a whole would feel much safer with a younger driver in a closed course, over a relatively short distance like commuting or accommodating trailers, or hauling goods from one facility to another,” without necessarily crossing state lines, ”Runnels said. “But if the freight is destined for out of state, [young] drivers cannot take it from a manufacturing plant to a warehouse just 3 kilometers away; they are not allowed to touch it.

This means truckers under the age of 21 operating in and around “border towns” such as Chattanooga and Memphis, Tennessee; Cincinnati; Charlotte, North Carolina; and St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri, for example, are not even allowed to deliver local loads simply because they originate or are intended across state borders.

“More local options would be open to drivers between the ages of 18 and 21 if they ditch intrastate rules, strange as that sounds,” Runnels said. “These drivers pick up out-of-state loads dropped off in their area and can deliver or take them to a designated drop-off station, which they can’t do at the moment. It would put those drivers in a more controlled area than just letting them run around the country. “

So far, more than 120 companies and professional associations have joined a coalition in favor of the DRIVE-Safe law. One of its supporters is the Next Generation in Trucking Association, a nonprofit education accelerator whose goal is to promote CDL Diesel Driver and Technician programs in high schools and community and technical colleges through United States. Runnels sits on its board of directors.

Next Gen helps better prepare drivers with preliminary training before they actually work on getting their CDLs. Its founder, Lindsey Trent, hopes the passage of the DRIVE-Safe Act will help her continue her efforts to introduce high school and college students to the trucking industry. Next Gen’s efforts have already come to fruition in some schools with an advanced level course, comprising 219 hours of classroom instruction and 75 hours behind the wheel of a truck.

“The next generation isn’t going after all teens; these young participants are interested in driving at a young age and take their career as a truck driver seriously, ”said Trent. “Not only are we trying to get the DRIVE-Safe Act through, but ultimately we want more young, trained and qualified drivers.”

“Each year, more than $ 1.1 billion in federal funding is spent on technical education; this is lacking in the trucking industry, ”Trent said in a previous FreightWaves interview. “We compete with welding, construction and woodworking, but it’s interesting that many of these industries need CDL drivers. “

However, not everyone in trucking adheres to the DRIVE-Safe law. In fact, a coalition of trucking and safety organizations argues that responding to young drivers “would put the public at unnecessary risk.” The coalition said commercial drivers aged 19 to 20 are six times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than all other truckers. He also argued that the industry faces a retention crisis rather than a driver shortage.

Whether younger or older drivers are safer remains to be debated; it all really depends on how you interpret the stats, suggests Runnels.

For example, statistics from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) from 2018 show that the age group with the highest percentage of fatal crashes involving large trucks is that of drivers aged 46 to 55, at 26. , 4%. Drivers aged 36 to 45 come in second with 21.8%, followed closely by drivers aged 56 to 65 with 20%. Indeed, only 6.6% of fatal accidents involved drivers aged 18 to 25.

Image: The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)

It could be argued that young drivers are safer based on these numbers alone, but a closer look offers a different perspective.

Trent and Runnels claim that most drivers entering the industry today are 38 years old. In addition, the median age of commercial drivers is 46, compared to 41 for all other workers. Since the majority of commercial drivers are overwhelmingly older, the fact that they see more accidents makes sense.

Regardless, the advanced age of truck drivers is one of the main concerns that the industry cannot ignore. Next Gen says trucking companies will need to hire 890,000 new drivers this decade to meet growing freight demand, so all signs are that attracting young drivers is a viable option.

“I honestly think it will be an uphill battle. But it’s about launching high school programs and career awareness programs in every state, ”Trent said. “There is a [driver] shortage, and it will continue to increase the prices of consumer goods because there are not enough people to transport these goods. We need to do something, and in order to keep our economy moving, we need to have more truck drivers.

Click for more FreightWaves content by Jack Glenn.

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