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Lawmakers Press DOT to Let 18 Year-Olds Drive Big Rigs Across State Lines

Lawmakers Press DOT to Let 18 Year-Olds Drive Big Rigs Across State Lines

House members want 18-to-20-year-old drivers to haul loads in interstate commerce; Walmart tests autonomous trucks.

November 09, 2021

Truck on the road

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—More than 80 bipartisan House members sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg urging the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to allow truck drivers younger than age 21 to cross state lines with their cargo.

Led by Reps. Dusty Johnson (R-SD) and Josh Harder (D-CA), the letter says that allowing 18-20-year-old truck drivers to operate in interstate commerce would help ease a shortage of truckers that’s straining the supply chain. Although most states allow 18 year-olds to obtain a commercial driver’s license, truck drivers must be at least 21 years old to drive large trucks in interstate commerce.

"Amid the growing supply chain crisis, drivers in the trucking industry have stepped up to ensure the timely delivery of goods. Yet even with their efforts, there simply aren’t enough truckers on the road to meet the demand," the letter says. "As our supply chain issues continue to grow, we should be doing everything we can to fix the problem."

The trucking industry is short by an estimated 80,000 drivers, which is a record for the industry, according to the American Trucking Associations (ATA). ATA’s Chief Economist Bob Costello says that although new truckers are entering the industry, the number of new drivers isn’t keeping up with the increased demand for goods. Costello says that based on driver demographic trends, including gender and age, as well as expected freight growth, the shortage could surpass 160,000 in 2030.

“NACS appreciates the bipartisan effort led by Representatives Dusty Johnson and Josh Harder and the other 80 members who signed the delegation letter to help with the truck driver shortage issue,” said Paige Anderson, NACS director, government relations. “The truck driver shortage issue is real and is having a significant impact on convenience and fuel retailers in their ability to receive and deliver fuel, food and other products.”

NACS supports the DRIVE Safe Act, which would allow for drivers between the ages of 18 and 21 with a commercial driver’s license to operate in interstate commerce and drive across state lines. During Senate consideration of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, NACS signed a joint industry letter asking the Senate to include language to address this issue. In addition, NACS continues to work with a broad coalition working on supply chain issues, especially regarding truck driver shortages. These key stakeholders, including NACS, sent a joint industry letter late last month to the White House outlining the need for action in key areas of the supply chain challenge, including movement on allowing 18-21-year-old truck drivers to cross state lines.

Autonomous Trucks

Meanwhile, Walmart has started to utilize autonomous trucks for its online grocery sector to increase capacity and reduce inefficiencies, reports CNBC. Walmart has partnered with startup Gatik since December 2020 to operate in Arkansas after gaining permission from the state highway office.

Walmart and Gatik have operated two fully driverless trucks on a seven-mile loop for 12 hours. The trucks are loaded up at a Walmart fulfillment center, and then the orders are taken to a nearby Walmart Neighborhood Market grocery store in Bentonville, Ark., where Walmart is headquartered. CNBC reports the partnership is focused on the middle mile—the transport of goods within the supply chain most often from a warehouse to a fulfillment center or a warehouse to a retailer.

Walmart says it’s testing the autonomous vehicles as it transitions to a “hub-and-spoke” model for grocery delivery. The warehouses or “dark stores” are closer to the consumer and will serve several retail stores, and the use of these vehicles will allow Walmart associates to perform other tasks such picking and packing online orders and customer assistance.

Waabi, a Toronto-based autonomous-vehicle startup that is building self-driving systems for long-haul trucks told the Wall Street Journal that long-haul trucking is where the retail industry will first see autonomous vehicle technology making an impact.

“From a self-driving technology perspective, driving on highways, although very difficult, is much easier than driving in cities. Last-mile delivery, food delivery, it’s not clear what that product should look like … For long-haul trucking, you can automate certain corridors. From the business perspective, it makes a lot of sense,” Waabi CEO Raquel Urtasun told the Wall Street Journal.

Trucking firms are offering sign-on and retention bonuses to attract and retain drivers. The labor crunch has firms raising wages and turning down jobs because they can’t meet the demand. In a male-dominated profession, carriers are trying to appeal to women with a message about quality of work-life balance to shore up the driving ranks. Read more in “Women On The Road” in the October 2021 issue of NACS Magazine.

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