While the trucking industry is short nearly 80,000 drivers, there’s some help on its way in the recently approved bipartisan infrastructure deal, but more is needed. The Biden administration also unveiled a Truck Action Plan on Dec. 16 to offer additional guidance on addressing concerns.
To help address constraints in trucking, including insufficient truck drivers and outdated rules of the road, the bipartisan infrastructure deal recently signed by the President creates important benchmarks to bring more female drivers into the workforce and creates a pilot project allowing truck drivers between the ages of 18 and 20 to drive interstate.
The infrastructure package establishes a three-year, national pilot program based on the DRIVE-Safe Act, authorizing up to 3,000 18-20-year-old drivers at any one time to undergo advanced safety training in order to participate in interstate commerce. During the 116th Congress, the DRIVE-Safe Act garnered over 140 cosponsors.
Currently, 49 states and the District of Columbia allow 18 to 20-year-old commercial driver license holders to operate commercial motor vehicles in intrastate commerce, but these same drivers, who may have been driving safely for three years, are unable to drive across state lines.
The action plan from the Biden administration kicks off a 90-day challenge to accelerate the expansion of registered apprenticeships for these younger drivers. For employers ready to step up, the Department of Labor and national partners will help accelerate new program development in as little as two days.
It also establishes a Women in Trucking Advisory Board for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and it funds a Department of Transportation advertisement campaign to promote workforce needs in trucking and other transportation sectors.
There are approximately 70,000 veterans who are likely to have certified trucking experience in the last five years. The DOL Veterans’ Employment and Training Service and the Department of Veterans Affairs will work with Veterans Service Organizations, Military Service Organizations, unions, industry trucking associations, training providers, and private partners to enable transitioning service members and veterans to attain good jobs in the trucking industry.
Livestock hauler flexibilities
The infrastructure bill also offers relief for livestock haulers as provisions of Sen. Deb Fischer's, R-Neb., HAULS Act were included within the bipartisan infrastructure framework.
Livestock haulers are now granted 150 air-miles radius from the origin and destination of their trip. This effectively allows livestock haulers to travel an additional 300 miles while exempt from the restrictive Hours-of-Service regulations. Since 2017, livestock groups have been successful in achieving a reoccurring exemption from the Electronic Logging Devices mandate for livestock haulers.
"The language included within this bipartisan infrastructure framework helps prevent the situation of having a livestock hauler run out of hours mere miles from their destination,” says U.S. Cattlemen’s Association Committee Chairman Steve Hilker. “Livestock haulers cannot stop and unload their animals like drivers of furniture or steel - or wait on the side of the highway for their clocks to reset. We need this regulatory flexibility to be able to get these animals to their destination as safely and efficiently as possible."
Reducing barriers to getting CDLs
DOT and the FMCSA are supporting state departments of motor vehicles as they return to—or even exceed—pre-pandemic commercial driver’s license issuance rates, which is helping bring more truck drivers into the field.
FMCSA will provide over $30 million in funding to help states expedite CDLs. As part of those efforts, FMCSA is sending all 50 states a toolkit detailing specific actions they can take to expedite licensing and will work hand-in-hand with states to address challenges they are facing. FMCSA will also begin closely tracking delays, identifying states that have challenges with issuing CDLs, and communicating with all 50 governors about ways they can reduce delays in issuing CDLs.
In 2021, on average, more than 50,000 CDLs and Learners Permits have been issued each month, which is 20% higher than the 2019 monthly average and 72% higher than the 2020 monthly average. In fact, by the end of October 2021, states had issued more licenses and permits than in all of 2019.
While backlogs and delays exist in some states, they can be cleared by using proven strategies, the White House said in its trucking action plan. For example, using these tools this past summer, New York reduced testing delays by 37%. California recently expanded hours and locations and increased the number of personnel who can administer the road test. North Carolina increased the availability of testing appointments, and Texas has expanded hours, testing capacity and shifted much of the process online.
“There is more work to do, and FMCSA is using the levers of government to make it easier for truck drivers to get their CDLs, while also taking actions to address retention issues,” the action plan adds.
The Truck Action Plan is part of the Biden administration’s Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force, launched in June to address near-term supply chain bottlenecks as the economy rapidly reopened. The Task Force is co-chaired by the secretaries of commerce, transportation, and agriculture to lead a whole of government effort to address these disruptions.