Take a look around your home or place of work and consider this: Virtually every item you see has traveled on the back of a truck at one point. Truckers are the lifeblood of our economy and are absolutely essential to the quality of life we all enjoy each and every day. This fact was more apparent than ever throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the coronavirus traveled across the U.S., it became harder and harder for supplies to do the same thing. But truckers didn’t stand down; they masked up and got to work. And it’s a good thing, because more than 70% of the nation’s freight is carried by commercial trucks. In Washington state, 80% of our communities depend exclusively on trucks to move their goods. And those trucks need drivers.
Unfortunately, there is a massive driver shortage that’s putting the continuity of our nation’s supply chain at risk. COVID-19 made the problem worse. The temporary closures of state departments of motor vehicles and truck driver training schools decimated the already fragile pipeline of new drivers entering the workforce.
Which is why I’m sounding the alarm on the driver shortage and the threat it poses: Just as we’re poised to turn the corner and recover, our economy is being dealt new blows. Microchip shortages, clogged shipping lanes, pent-up demand resulting from months of lockdown, and many rounds of government stimulus spending are pushing consumer prices upward. Put simply, companies from all sectors of the economy are facing higher transportation costs, and it’s forcing them to raise prices for consumers.
But one easy common-sense change would alleviate much of this pressure. Getting more drivers on the road by passing the DRIVE-Safe Act. Although Washington is among 49 states and the District of Columbia that currently allow drivers under 21 to obtain a commercial driver’s license and operate in intrastate commerce, these same individuals are prohibited by federal law from driving a truck across state lines until they turn 21. The DRIVE-Safe Act will change this through a rigorous two-step apprenticeship program that creates a path for these existing professional drivers to become full-fledged members of the industry.
As the name implies, the legislation’s first priority is safety. We’re not turning the keys over to just anyone. These will be some of the most highly trained drivers on the road. In order to qualify, candidates must complete at least 400 additional hours of training — more than what is required for any other commercial driver’s license holder in the nation.
Additionally, all drivers who participate in the apprenticeship program will 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 junior drivers in the program will also be required to be accompanied by an experienced driver during the process.
The DRIVE-Safe Act will not only help our nation’s freight continue to move while preserving the safety of our roads and bolstering our supply chain, it will also put people back to work. The bill will give younger Americans the opportunity to enter an industry with a median salary of $54,585 nationally ($54,930 average in Washington) plus health and retirement benefits. The bipartisan legislation — which earned the support of more than one-third of the House and Senate in the 116th Congress — is truly a win-win.
That’s why it’s critical that U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, as well as U.S. Reps. Marilyn Strickland, Adam Smith, Suzan DelBene, Derek Kilmer and Kim Schrier support the DRIVE-Safe Act.
As witnessed throughout the pandemic, truckers are crucial. We need to address the nation’s growing driver shortage by promoting opportunity and enhanced safety training for the next generation of the transportation workforce. From basic necessities to lifesaving supplies, the abundant blessings of modern life are only within reach because of the trucks you see on the road and the hardworking men and women behind the wheel.