Key stakeholders in food retailing, manufacturing and supply are urging congressional leaders to push ahead legislation to remedy the nation’s huge shortage of truck drivers.
This week, 42 trade associations — ranging from the grocery, restaurant and foodservice to the distribution and logistics sectors — sent a letter to Rep. Bill Shuster (R., Pa.), chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, to expedite passage of the DRIVE-Safe Act (H.R. 5358). Introduced in March by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R., Calif.), the bill aims to spur the development of young truck drivers and enable those younger than 21 to engage in interstate commerce.
In the letter, the trade groups stressed the urgency of the truck driver shortfall, which in the supermarket arena comes amid surging demand for fresh and prepared foods and booming e-commerce sales. According to a recent estimate, they said, 50,000 more drivers are needed now, and the shortage is projected to top 174,000 by 2026.
“Seventy percent of the nation’s freight is carried by commercial trucks, yet as our economy strengthens, motor carriers are having difficulty finding the drivers they need to handle growing capacity,” reads the letter, whose signees include such supermarket industry organizations as the Food Marketing Institute, National Grocers Association, Associated Grocers of New England and the New Hampshire Grocers Association. “In many supply chains, companies are being forced to increase prices to account for higher transportation costs. This will ultimately result in higher prices for consumers on everything from electronics to food.”
At the center of the issue is a regulatory disconnect restricting the age of drivers crossing state lines, the trade associations noted. Forty-eight states permit drivers to get a commercial driver’s license at 18, but these drivers are prohibited from interstate driving until they’re 21. Under federal law, a 20-year-old truck driver couldn’t drive 14 miles from Springfield, Va., to Washington, D.C., but that driver would be permitted to haul a load from Arlington to Norfolk, Va. — a more than six-hour roundtrip drive.
“The truck driver shortage is slowing the movement of commerce in this country, raising consumer prices and wait times for goods. Nowhere is this threat more evident than in the foodservice distribution industry, which delivers food and supplies to the over 1 million professional kitchens across the country every day,” Mark Allen, president and chief executive officer of the International Foodservice Distributors Association (IFDA), said in a statement. “The DRIVE-Safe Act is a common-sense proposal that will open enormous opportunities for an emerging workforce and strengthen safety training programs.”
To alleviate the driver shortage, the DRIVE-Safe Act would establish a two-step training program designed to enable younger drivers to enter the trucking industry safely. Candidates would be accompanied in the cab by experienced drivers for 400 hours of on-duty time, including at least 240 hours of driving time.
In addition, trucks would be required to be equipped with the latest safety technology, including active braking collision mitigation systems, forward-facing event recording cameras, speed limiters set at 65 miles per hour or less, and automatic or automatic-manual transmissions.
“Costs for us in transportation now are higher than they have ever been,” Ann-Marie Daugherty, vice president of logistics for Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle, said in a recent video posted by FMI, which asked supply chain executives what keeps them up at night. “There is a lot of focus on driver capacity and driver shortages across the country. What that translates to for us are higher costs to bring product in from suppliers to our warehouses and, additionally, finding and retaining drivers that work for us to make deliveries to our stores.”