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'Real chronic driver shortage problem:' Trucking industry seeks younger truck drivers

Traffic in Northern Virginia (Photo: WJLA)
Traffic in Northern Virginia (Photo: WJLA)
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Several consumers and businesses are feeling the pinch of a massive shortage of truck drivers in the United States as delayed deliveries are becoming commonplace for some Americans.

The American Trucking Association estimates that there was a shortage of 61,000 truck drivers at the end of 2019. Making matters worse: in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, which made it difficult to train new truck drivers.

On top of the truck driver shortage, demand is rising for food deliveries, online shopping, and distribution of COVID vaccines and PPE. This is all putting added pressure on the region’s supply chain.

“The pressure of not having enough drivers certainly makes it harder to serve our customers’ needs,” said Chris Spear, the President and CEO of American Trucking Associations (ATA). “We have a real chronic driver shortage problem.”

Spear told 7News that over the next five to ten years, the trucking industry will have to hire more than a million people just to meet current demand.

“That’s no small feat,” he said.

Spear added that America’s truckers currently move 70 percent of domestic freight in the United States.

“It’s no small number,” he said. “It’s really something that we need to bring more talent in and make certain we are serving the economy long term.”

In an effort to help fix the truck driver shortage, ATA and more than 100 organizations are making a bipartisan push to lower the minimum legal age of truck drivers in interstate commerce from 21-years-old to 18-years-old. The legislation they are trying to move forward in Congress is called the “DRIVE Safe Act.”

“If we can train 18-year-olds to fight and protect our freedom abroad, I’m pretty certain we can train them to cross state lines in a Class A truck,” said Spear.

Some groups are opposed to lowering the age.

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“My son was killed by a teenage heavy truck driver,” Russell Swift told 7News. “It’s my prediction if they pass legislation that permits 18 to 20-year-olds to drive interstate, there will be more deaths as a direct result of the inexperience and immaturity of 18 to 20-year-old drivers.”

Right now, 49 states and the District of Columbia allow 18-20-year-old truck drivers to drive within state lines, but they are not permitted to cross state lines.

Spear said the trucking industry needs to be aggressive and stay focused on the shortage. He added the industry needs to “attack the issue” in multiple ways, so the industry is prepared to serve the economy long-term.

“We need to bring more women in the force,” he said. “Certainly, more minorities, urban hiring can be a part of that. I think exiting service members in the military as well as veterans - they need to be hired. They have a place in our industry. Another element is bringing in the youth and training them to safely operate this equipment.”

Spear told 7News that the nation’s 3.5 million truck drivers helped get the nation through the onset of COVID-19.

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“I’m also reminding people we got the job done throughout the pandemic," he said. "Those store shelves were restocked quickly because of truck drivers."

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