Great depression era laws impeding 2018 economic growth
© Greg Nash

In 1937, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was entering his second term in office. Gas cost 10 cents a gallon and a loaf of bread was nine cents. The trucking industry was still in its infancy. Trucking grew in popularity after World War I as an alternative to our overworked railroads. Improvements in engineering, and the creation of the Interstate highway system, boosted trucking as a more efficient means of directly transporting finished goods from source to destination. Today, all Americans rely on the timely transport and delivery of goods via long haul trucks.

But a regulation adopted in 1937 threatens our 21st century economy. Current regulations do not allow commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders aged 18-20 to drive trucks for the purpose of interstate commerce. While these drivers are permitted to make intrastate deliveries in each of the contiguous 48 states, they cannot cross state lines to make deliveries or even haul freight within their state boundaries if the origination or final destination of that freight is beyond the state’s borders. The result? Adults, who are able to vote and enlist in the military, are arbitrarily restricted and delayed from entering the trucking profession. As a result, new entrants to the job market miss out on the potential to make $45,000-$50,000 upon graduation from high school, and must thereby wait until they turn 21 or choose a different profession.

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And those jobs aren’t going to older, more tenured drivers. They simply aren’t being filled at all.

The need for freight transportation is growing; estimates show trucking companies will need to hire an additional 890,000 drivers over the next decade to meet demand. Furthermore, according to an industry analysis by DAT Solutions, just one truck was available for every 12 loads needing to be shipped at the start of 2018, the lowest ratio since 2005. With an average workforce age of 49, the trucking industry is facing a growing shortage of drivers that is pushing some retailers to delay nonessential shipments or pay high prices to get their goods delivered on time.

Who pays for those higher prices? Consumers.

Congress needs to fix this outdated age restriction and allow qualified, licensed drivers of all ages to hit the road. Fortunately, the DRIVE-Safe Act, a bipartisan bill introduced in the House and Senate by senior lawmakers, would allow 18- to 20-year-old CDL holders to cross state lines, a big deal when most jobs involve interstate commerce. The bill would also promote opportunities for enhanced safety training for emerging members of the workforce.

Safety is paramount to our industry. Beginning in February 2020, anyone applying for a CDL will be required under federal law to enroll in an entry-level driver-training program that meets or exceeds curriculum standards set forth by the Department of Transportation. CDL applicants must demonstrate knowledge and proficiency in critical commercial vehicle operating skills, and be certified by their training provider before they can even take the test for their CDL. If enacted into law, the DRIVE-Safe Act would further require newly minted drivers to complete an additional 400 hours of behind the wheel training with their employer. During this 400-hour period, the new driver would be paired with a senior instructor from the employer, and operate trucks with the latest technological advancements like automatic braking, automatic transmissions, and lane departure warning systems. Only after the successful demonstration of 400 hours of accident free driving would a younger driver be authorized to begin work driving alone. This legislation ensures the best training and technology to bring our current regulations into the 21st Century.

Back in 1937, limiting a young driver from manning an unfamiliar vehicle across this relatively new concept called highways might have made sense, but the extensive training and rigorous safety requirements of today’s licensure makes the interstate ban obsolete. Whatever the case, this 81-year old restriction is keeping qualified candidates from kick-starting their careers in the trucking industry—and preventing the industry from filling hundreds of thousands of open jobs.

In 1937, the year Ronald Reagan made his acting debut, it’s safe to say no one expected he’d serve as a two-term president. In 1937, when an age restriction was placed on CDL holders, it’s safe to say no one expected this innovation called GPS would someday guide drivers along a sophisticated network of interstate highways. Congress should put to rest old-fashioned restrictions based on outdated concerns and swiftly pass the DRIVE-Safe Act.

Mark S. Allen is President and CEO of the International Foodservice Distributors Association (IFDA). Don Lefeve is President & CEO of the Commercial Vehicle Training Association (CVTA).