It’s estimated that the trucking industry is short about 50,000 drivers. And it’s suggested to only get worse. According to the ATRI (American Transportation Research Institute), we’ll be short by as many as 800,000 drivers by 2026. How do we fix this driver shortage? Well, it’s an age-old question with a new-age solution.
Current federal laws prohibit truck drivers under 21 years of age from driving a truck on the interstate— even though anybody over 18 years of age can drive intrastate routes in 48 of the continental states. That means a driver can carry loads from Johnson City, TN all the way to Memphis, TN but not one mile further. As a result, our industry is missing out on a significant amount of promising drivers fresh out of high school who ultimately move on to other professions, most unlikely to pursue a truck driving career.
Many in the industry are working to change that — and AMX is right there with them.
For the past 5 years, we’ve traveled to Washington D.C. with other members of the American Trucking Association to speak with state and federal representatives about the Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy (DRIVE) Safe Act — and to ask for their support in passing it.
Designed specifically to counter the driver shortage, this workforce development initiative is an apprenticeship program for drivers between 18 and 21 years of age. There are hundreds of thousands of potential employees out there in this age group eager to start a career with a competitive pay and health and retirement benefits. But they don’t want to wait up to three years for it.
Apprenticeship program with performance benchmarks
DRIVE would get these prospective drivers behind the wheel sooner. And it’s designed to keep everybody safe. Every apprentice driver has to pass a series of performance benchmarks over the course of a 400-hour apprenticeship program while accompanied by an experienced driver. Take a look at the specifics of the two-step proposed program:
- 120-hour Probationary Period. The apprentice must complete at least 80 of these hours behind the wheel learning how to control the tractor in various settings — while accompanied by an experienced driver the entire time. Up to 40 hours can be spent studying or performing non-driving tasks.
- 280-hour Probationary Period. The stakes are raised as drivers are challenged to perform a wide range of specific maneuvers in multiple environments. This period is designed to give drivers a feel for the real-life scenarios they’ll face on the road. They’re still driving with an experienced driver, and must have at least 160 of these hours behind the wheel.
A great start on a great career
Truck driving offers great benefits for people who want a well-paid option with benefits early in their careers. There are a lot of people between the ages of 18 and 21 who’d love to work with new technology, see the country and make real money.
Right now, the typical path for a driver is through an accredited truck driving school. DRIVE gives more freedom and control to the drivers and the companies that employ them.
Carefully monitored, the apprenticeship program would give drivers a real feel behind the wheel. This program would be a great opportunity for young drivers to realize if a trucking career is right for them — without crushing their spirit or wallet.
What you can do to help
We’re hoping to get more sponsors for DRIVE. Our industry depends on it. In fact, other industries depend on it, too. Every day, there are millions of shipments that need to be delivered. Without drivers, customers and consumers wait for products — and pay higher prices for them.
Reach out to your local congresspersonabout DRIVE. Tell them you support it. Or connect with me to learn more. Our industry is facing a huge challenge. It’s up to us to drive change in a new direction.
Collins White. President of Logistics. AMX.