The Biden administration has announced a new plan to increase the number of truckers on American roadways amid a nationwide shortage of drivers.
The plan includes $30 million in funding to expedite the Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) process, while the Department of Labor (DOL) will steer $8 million to trucking apprenticeship programs.
The plan also outlines an initiative to reach out to veterans groups.
In addition, a new partnership between the Department of Transportation and DOL, as part of the recently signed federal infrastructure legislation, plans to study the issue of truck driver pay, develop strategies to attract more women drivers, and drivers as young as 18. It also sets up a task force meant to investigate predatory truck leasing arrangements, according to a White House fact sheet.
“This is a step forward to addressing the supply chain crisis that’s going on in the country,” David Heller, vice president of government affairs for the Truckload Carriers Association, told The Epoch Times. “It’s a long-term solution, specifically the apprenticeship programs, that will look to attract people of all demographics to this industry.”
The American Trucking Association says a national shortage of more than 80,000 truckers is worsening shipping bottlenecks, exacerbating supply chain issues, and contributing to a rise in inflation, which reached a 39-year-high of 6.8 percent in November.
Fifteen Republican governors, led by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, started “Operation Open Road” in November, which called on the Biden administration to remove “burdensome” regulations on the trucking industry and to suspend the president’s vaccine mandate for private employers.
The Biden plan lowers the CDL age requirement from 21 to 18, as called for in the governors’ plan. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will begin a pilot program for drivers ages 18–21 as mandated by the infrastructure law.
Heller approves of the age change as exposing the trucking industry to a younger demographic interested in going into the trades out of high school.
“You have to remember this is not your grandfather’s truck,” Heller said. “This is the new truck, a new piece of equipment that’s operating on our highways with forward collision avoidance mitigation systems, lane departure warning systems, camera technology. That certainly goes a long way to them operating in an environment that’s safer than they’ve ever been.”
Biden’s plan doesn’t, however, address the vaccine mandate—announced in September as part of an executive order requiring all workers at private businesses with 100 employees or more to be vaccinated for COVID-19 or show a weekly negative test.
A new rule from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration implementing the requirement is currently held up in the courts.
“The vaccine mandate is a concern, without a doubt—the effect it will have on our driving population,” Heller said. “We’re waiting to get a final decision from the court. But it is certainly something that we’re concerned about as it affects our drivers.”