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DRIVE-Safe Act: A Solution to the Driver Shortage or Unnecessary and Dangerous?

As the global pandemic wanes, an unforeseen problem for the industry is arising, namely, a global labor shortage. Unsurprisingly, the trucking industry is not immune to this unprecedented labor shortage. As solutions are proposed to combat the growing driver shortages many trucking companies have faced in recent months, the issue of relaxing regulations and barriers of entry for potential new truck drivers has taken center stage. Although the Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy Act (“DRIVE-Safe Act”) was introduced in 2018 with little support, it has been reintroduced with stronger bipartisan support in the House and Senate in May 2021 as trucking companies become more vocal about the post-Covid driver shortages.

The DRIVE-Safe Act primarily focuses on allowing younger drivers – between the ages of 18 and 21 – to drive trucks beyond state borders. In other words, the main focus of the DRIVE-Safe Act is to allow trucking companies to hire younger drivers to participate in interstate commerce as opposed to the current regulations allowing younger drivers to participate in intrastate commerce only.

In trying to balance safety and a larger pool of eligible truck drivers, the DRIVE-Safe Act proposes a two-step apprenticeship program that requires younger drivers who have received a commercial driver’s license to undertake at least 400 hours of on-duty time and 240 hours of driving time under the supervision of an experienced driver’s supervision. The second step includes training the new drivers on the newest safety technology available in commercial trucks including braking systems, Drivecam operation, and new speed governors capping speeds at 65 mph.

Proponents of the DRIVE-Safe Act aptly emphasize that lower barriers of entry for truck drivers and overall safety are not mutually exclusive – that is, lower barriers to entry for potential truck drivers can be a boom for solving the driver shortage without compromising the overall safety of our roads and highways. Opponents[1] of the DRIVE-Safe Act argue that the driver shortage is non-existent and manufactured by trucking industry interests. Opponents further argue that the problem is a driver retention issue unique to trucking companies and that the DRIVE-Safe Act lowers safety standards for drivers that will inevitably lead to increased fatalities among trucking accidents. Opponents cite that younger commercial drivers are six times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than older commercial drivers to which proponents reply that older commercial drivers are involved in accidents of all types at a far higher rate than younger drivers.

While the DRIVE-Safe Act has a long road ahead as it makes its way through Congress, its provisions will inevitably impact trucking companies and the public at large who expect safe highways for travel. It is no wonder why there is intense debate, even within the trucking industry, as to the propriety of the DRIVE-Safe Act’s passage.

The attorneys at Poole Shaffery & Koegle, LLP strive to keep our clients updated with the most current laws and regulations affecting the trucking industry remain ready and prepared to assist and advise you on all your legal needs.

 

[1] The most vocal opponents of the DRIVE-Safe Act have formed a coalition including Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, Parents Against Tired Truckers and Truck Safety Coalition.