According to senior officials within the U.S. Department of Transportation, the safety of American drivers throughout our nation’s roadways is the top priority of the department in its policy implementation regarding the effects of new infrastructure legislation on the trucking industry.
Safety goals will be the overarching guide to policy implementation and funding allocation, noted Polly Trottenberg, Deputy Transportation Secretary. Trottenberg’s comments came as part of her keynote speech at the annual meeting for the Transportation Research Board.
The $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, implemented late last year, calls for workforce retention and recruitment in regards to various trucking and freight provisions. For the trucking sector, specifically, the bill set forth a women-in-trucking outreach initiative, a truck-leasing task force project, and an apprenticeship program for commercial drivers under the age of 21 to be able to drive within interstate commerce.
These initiatives come as the industry scrambles to fill roles in the midst of the seemingly never-ending truck driver shortage, worsened by the effects of the pandemic. The trucking industry is missing a necessary 80,000 truck drivers at the moment, American Trucking Associations estimates.
“I want to emphasize, in particular [in regards to] the apprenticeship program, because as you know, there’s a lot of discussion about…the safety element, [and] making sure that we’re doing it in a way that is safe,” said Trottenberg. “Our leadership at [the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration] has been engaging with all of the stakeholders on that.”
She added: “We want to bring new populations into this field, but I always want to make sure we’re prioritizing safety as well.”
These comments regarding safety seem like empty promises to many roadway safety advocates as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act brings about an apprenticeship pilot program allowing new truckers between the ages of 18 and 20 to operate commercial vehicles interstate, whereas previously, commercial drivers younger than 21 were not allowed to operate CMVs in such a capacity.
“The consequences are too dire to trust inexperienced drivers on the roads with 80,000 pound trucks,” noted Levinson and Stefani’s Ken Levinson. “They need more experience in safe driving, and there’s just too much that can go wrong to let brand new drivers take the wheel of a truck.”
On top of this young driver initiative, the Department of Labor and USDOT are prioritizing recruitment and retention programs over the next few years as part of the Biden administration’s overall trucking action plan.
“In some parts of the trucking industry, 90% of drivers turn over each year,” said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in a recent statement. “Making sure truck drivers are paid and treated fairly is the right thing to do, and it will help with both recruiting new drivers and keeping experienced drivers on the job.”
In an effort to boost driver retention rates, a truck leasing advisory board has been implemented in order to help promote commercial driver-assisting resources in regards to understanding and assessing trucker leasing agreements.
“The big focus we have: We’re standing up a lot of different programs and just making sure that we’re well-organized, that we’re rolling those [programs] out, and that particularly…we’re working with our stakeholders,” said Trottenberg.
“These investments are going to have a very real impact on our daily lives,” said Buttigieg at the annual Transportation Research Board conference. “They’re going to help people save money on gas, save time on their commute…they’re going to help more children take the bus to school without having to worry about being exposed to toxic fumes. They’re going to put people to work. They’re going to reconnect communities, and I believe they’re going to save lives.”
Trottenberg added that the pandemic era and its supply chain difficulties have made clear truck drivers’ importance to the American economy.
“The pandemic has underscored how incredibly vital their work is–vital for the supply chain, vital for making sure we [have] medical supplies, [that we have] the food on our grocery shelves–all the things we need,” she said.