The National Council of Chain Restaurants believes legislation set to be introduced this week could play a significant role in reducing a shortage of commercial truck drivers needed to ensure efficient delivery of food and supplies to restaurants across the country.
“Chain restaurants and their thousands of small business franchisees rely on a stable system of distribution for their food supply chains,” NCCR Executive Director David French said. “America’s long-haul trucking industry provides the vital distribution networks that serve the chain restaurant industry and so many other sectors of our economy, but they need a steady stream of new talent to enter the profession in order to function. The DRIVE-Safe Act will go a long way toward addressing our nation’s current truck driver shortage.”
French’s comments came in a letter to Representative Duncan D. Hunter Jr., R-Calif., a senior member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee who plans to introduce the DRIVE-Safe Act – short for Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy – on Wednesday.
Under regulations set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, individuals under 21 years old are currently prohibited from driving a commercial motor vehicle across state lines even if they live in a state that allows them to obtain a commercial driver’s license at 18.
Hunter’s legislation would establish a two-stage apprenticeship program with sequential probationary periods in which drivers between 18 and 21 would be required to meet progressive competency requirements and demonstrate achievement of safety benchmarks. Participants would be accompanied by an experienced commercial driver’s license holder during all driving hours during the training, and would operate trucks equipped with advanced safety features and technology. Those who successfully complete the program would then be allowed to drive commercial trucks in interstate commerce on their own.
French said the program would help relieve a critical shortage of drivers, citing American Trucking Associations estimates that 50,000 positions went unfilled in 2017 and that the gap is expected to grow to nearly 175,000 by 2026. Under current regulations, recent high school graduates who wish to pursue a career in long-haul trucking are barred from doing so for three years, by which time they are often lost to other industries, he said.
French called the apprenticeship program “a smart approach to addressing an important need in a key sector of our economy.”