Congress can address nation's truck driver shortage, benefiting our nation's commerce
© Greg Nash

Whether you live in a red state or a blue state, a critical shortage of truck drivers affects the timely movement of goods and raises the cost of our nation’s commerce. Your wallet is directly impacted by this workforce shortage. Amazon Prime members may have noted the recent 20 percent increase in their annual membership fee, attributed to rising shipping costs. The price of moving a truckload of refrigerated food from Washington state to New York was about $8,450 in January 2018. Just a couple weeks later, the cost for the same truck traveling the same route jumped to $10,000. The hard truth is, as the demand for freight transportation grows, estimates show trucking companies will need to hire an additional 890,000 drivers over the next decade to keep up.

Conventional wisdom says: just hire more drivers. If only it were that easy. Today’s trucking shortage is exacerbated by a set of federal restrictions barring a new generation of drivers from entering the hiring pool at a time when the industry already is trying to manage vacancies left as veteran drivers hit retirement age. Regardless of what age a state allows individuals to earn a Commercial Drivers License (CDL), federal law requires drivers to be 21 years old both to transport interstate commerce and to cross state lines. The winners of this outdated restriction? We can’t identify any. The losers? Consumers who will pay more at the end for the products they rely on as retailers resort to paying higher prices to get their goods delivered on time. Also impacted: young adults. This restriction impedes our member companies ability to offer recent high school grads not looking to pursue a college degree a gateway to the middle class— an average a foodservice distribution driver makes $63,000 annually plus benefits. Young Americans are missing out on this opportunity.

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Fortunately, the DRIVE-Safe Act (S. 569, H.R. 1374), a bill that would fix this prohibition as well as enhance safety and training standards for newly qualified and current drivers, was recently introduced with bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. Under the legislation, once drivers qualify for a CDL, they engage in a two-step training program with rigorous performance benchmarks. Every driver will train on trucks equipped with new safety technology including active braking collision mitigation systems, video event capture, and a speed governor set at 65 miles per hour or below. Safety is paramount to our industry, as their drivers are part of their virtual family and share roads with our actual families.

Why is all this so critical? The $280 billion foodservice distribution industry ensures a safe and efficient supply chain of food and products for more than one million restaurants and foodservice outlets in the U.S. every day. But if we don’t put more drivers behind the wheel, we can’t make the timely delivery of the hundreds of thousands of perishable products. This doesn’t just mean the meals you get delivered at the speed of an app; it also impacts school lunches, restaurant chains, and even your local diner.

Agreement across the aisle is rare in our highly partisan environment, which is why when a major piece of legislation like the DRIVE-Safe Act has broad bipartisan—and bicameral—support, those impacted carry a renewed sense of optimism. Both chambers of Congress should pass to the DRIVE-Safe Act and ensure its timely delivery to the president’s desk; its enactment should be a no-brainer.

Mark S. Allen is President and CEO of the International Foodservice Distributors Association (IFDA).