“America’s supply chain yields tremendous potential,” said American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear during a hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee earlier this month. “It’s a catalyst for economic growth, beyond that of any other nation. For that to happen, however, I ask this committee to consider four key elements that both feed and benefit our nation’s supply chain: infrastructure, safety, workforce development, and environmental stewardship. Together, these elements shape and define the resiliency of our supply chain.”
Spear has also made known his belief that new legislation allowing commercial truck drivers under 21 years old to work across state lines is especially necessary at this time. Spear argues that this legislation would be incredibly beneficial to the nation’s supply chain and that it would help solve the long-term challenges surrounding the current driver shortage still intact throughout the trucking industry.
The trucking sector has been working to push forward a bill to secure long-term highway program funding and to ensure improved commercial corridor connectivity capabilities, as well.
“Stop blaming each other for the things you don’t do and start taking credit for the things you should do,” said Spear in an effort to highlight the current bipartisan efforts taking place in relation to boosted infrastructure upgrade funding and enhanced operation technology. “These investments are long overdue. They are the things Americans–your constituents–need, use, and rely on every single day. They’ll be grateful.”
Truck drivers clearly carried the nation’s economic health on its back during the coronavirus pandemic by ensuring grocery stores and hospitals stayed stocked with the supplies they needed, and many policymakers at both the state and federal levels have recognized these efforts. Still, though, truck drivers will continue to be the country’s most prominent freight transporters, with the trucking industry likely to ship around 70% of America’s freight throughout the next year. Trucks are also likely to move around 2.4 billion tons of more freight over the next decade than they have in recent years, according to ATA.
Now, a shortage of automobile sector-used semiconductor chips and disruptions in refined petroleum distribution have caused the nation’s supply chain to face a variety of obstacles as it works to keep shipments running smoothly during this time of boosted e-commerce.
“Without trucks, our cities, towns, and communities would fail to thrive, and would lack essential necessities such as food and drinking water. There would be no clothes to purchase, nor parts to build automobiles or fuel to power them [without trucks],” Spear lamented when he urged lawmakers to pass bipartisan surface transportation infrastructure policies for 2021.
Because the current driver shortage is also likely to not only continue but to grow as more truckers reach retirement age (and as e-commerce continues to boom), the trucking industry must hire an additional 1.1. million new truck drivers over the next ten years (around 110,000 each year).
At the recent hearing, Spear discussed the Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy (DRIVE)-Safe Act, which would allow truckers younger than the age of 21 to cross state lines while operating their commercial vehicles–an effort that is believed to be able to ease the difficulty of the shortage.
This program would permit under-21-year-old commercial driver license holders to work within interstate commerce, and DRIVE-Safe Act co-sponsors also touted the benefits of this measure during the meeting.
“This shortage directly impacts the supply chain of goods,” said Senator Rick Scott of Florida. “It causes delays for the manufacturers, consumers, and corporations across the U.S.”
Another major issue that was a topic of the discussion–truck parking access. The recent Truck Parking Safety Improvement Act will allocate U.S. Department of Transportation funding to certain state agencies in an effort to boost parking availability for commercial truck drivers. $125 million would be allocated for the year 2022, with annual increases taking place until 2026.
“It’s a huge problem,” said Spear of current parking capabilities. ”It definitely needs to be part of any legislation that you consider. This component really is key, and our entire industry is very much behind it.”
Finally, the issue of freight bottlenecks and the economic obstacles they present was brought to light by Senator Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, who noted a recent American Transportation Research Institute study showing that the smooth movement of commercial trucks is significantly hindered by traffic problems. Freight bottlenecks currently bring about $75 million in costs to freight distribution and 1.2 billion hours of lost trucking industry productivity each year, according to both ATA and ATRI.
“Trucks can sit for hours on the way to Wyoming and…that drives up prices, and sometimes delays business, for people in my state,” explained Lummis.