Sen. Cotton supports bill giving young truck drivers ability to haul interstate freight

by Jeff Della Rosa ( 1,485 views 

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., has signed on to support a bill recently introduced in the Senate that would provide a pathway for commercial truck drivers under 21 years old to haul freight across state lines as the trucking industry looks to address an ongoing driver shortage.

Existing law restricts drivers under 21 with a commercial driver’s license to haul goods from one state to another, but the Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy Act, or DRIVE-Safe Act would allow the drivers to complete an apprenticeship with an experienced driver before taking the wheel alone to haul interstate freight. On Aug. 16, Sen. Todd Young, R-Indiana, along with original co-sponsors U.S. Sens. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Jerry Moran, R-Kan., introduced the bill in the Senate. Cotton became a co-sponsor Aug. 27.

“Tens of thousands of commercial trucking jobs go unfilled each year across the United States,” Cotton said. “To make that problem worse current regulations prevent younger drivers from participating in interstate trucking at all, denying them the opportunity for good paying jobs. The DRIVE-Safe Act tackles both problems by allowing drivers under the age of 21 to pursue this career, as long as their employer adopts an apprenticeship program that includes rigorous training and safety standards.”

The DRIVE-Safe Act introduced in the Senate is a companion bill to one with the same name introduced in the House on March 21 by U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., along with original co-sponsors, U.S. Reps. Trey Hollingsworth, R-Ind., Walter Jones Jr., R-N.C., Glenn Grothman, R-Wisc., and James Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wisc. As of Aug. 31, the Senate bill had three co-sponsors, all Republicans, and the House bill had 71 co-sponsors, 66 Republicans and five Democrats, including U.S. Reps. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, and Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs. The Senate and House bills have been referred to transportation-related subcommittees.

“The Arkansas Trucking Association supports the DRIVE-Safe Act because it’s a common sense approach in addressing the shortage of professional drivers,” ATA President Shannon Newton said. “In order to meet the demand of a growing economy and an aging workforce, we have to open the pipeline for young people to join the trucking industry. This proposal puts highway safety at the forefront by going above and beyond current standards in preparing a new generation of truck drivers for a career, and it positions the trucking industry as a career of first choice.”

Under the Senate bill, an apprentice driver can haul goods from one state to another while in a 120-hour probationary period followed by a 280-hour probationary period and after the driver’s employer establishes a apprenticeship program. With the 120-hour probationary period, the apprentice must complete 120 hours of on-duty time, of which 80 hours are driving a commercial motor vehicle, and the employer must determine whether the driver is competent in several areas, such as driving on multiple roadway types, turning and complying with hours of service.

In the 280-hour probationary period, the driver must complete 280 hours of on-duty time, of which 160 hours of driving time is in a commercial motor vehicle. To complete this period, an employer must determine that the driver is competent in areas, such as backing and maneuvering in close quarters, coupling and uncoupling procedures and trip planning. In both probationary periods, the apprentice must be accompanied by an experienced driver of at least 21 years old who’s had a commercial driver’s license for at least two years, accident-free in the past year and has at least one year of interstate freight hauling. After successfully completing both probationary periods, a driver has completed the apprenticeship program and can haul interstate freight.

“This is a common-sense proposal that will open enormous opportunities for the 18-21 year-old population, giving them access to a high-paying profession free of the debt burden that comes with a four-year degree,” said Chris Spear, president and CEO of American Trucking Associations. “Moreover, this bill would strengthen training programs beyond current requirements to ensure safety and that drivers are best prepared.”

In the second quarter of 2018, the driver shortage rose to 296,311 drivers, according to FTR Transportation Intelligence. In the fourth quarter of 2015, less than 10% of truck driver jobs were unfilled. In 2017, the number of active truck drivers declined 1%, or by 36,000 drivers, to 3.506 million drivers, from 2016, according to the ATA’s American Trucking Trends 2018 report. Before 2017, the number of truck drivers had risen annually since 2011.