Whether sitting down to eat at a favorite local restaurant or grabbing a meal on the go at a chain, the foodservice distribution industry is there making it happen. American consumers, our nation’s restaurants, and food retailers all depend on us.
Our industry takes great pride in making sure shelves are stocked and customers are served, and getting foods from point A to point B efficiently and timely wouldn’t be possible without our highly skilled and trained drivers. This is why the current nationwide shortage of truck drivers is so troubling. Many of the truck drivers we have been counting on over the years to transport goods across the country are retiring. According to the American Trucking Associations, the shortage could surpass 63,000 drivers by the end of the year. That number is expected to increase over the next decade to 890,000 drivers, just to keep up with growth and demand for freight transportation. This poses serious implications for our nation’s food supply chain, which requires the timely delivery of hundreds of thousands of products each day.
Fortunately, there is a bipartisan bill making its way through Congress that can turn this trend around while offering a pathway for a new generation of drivers to enter this industry safely and with the skills they need to operate a truck in the 21st century. The Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy Act, or the DRIVE-Safe Act (H.R. 5358), was introduced in Congress on March 21, 2018. This vital piece of legislation is quickly gaining traction from members on both sides of the aisle with more than 70 co-sponsors in the House and counting. It’s easy to see why this bill has bipartisan support. It’s a win-win for growing our economy and providing 18- to 21-year-olds with good, high-paying jobs that don’t require a college degree.
Recruiting young talent to the trucking industry has been particularly challenging. However, a job as a foodservice distribution delivery driver pays well above the average wage for a U.S. worker—more than $63,000 annually versus approximately $50,000 for all U.S. workers. With a competitive salary and room for advancement within the industry, a career in freight transportation can help skilled young adults enter the workforce without having to worry about paying off college debt.
The DRIVE-Safe Act fixes a technicality in existing laws that allow individuals in most states to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL) at age 18 but prevents them from engaging in interstate commerce until they turn 21. This means a 19-year-old truck driver can drive a shipment from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs, CO, a four and a half hour roundtrip, but cannot drive that same shipment to Cheyenne, WY, a mere 45 minutes away.
The DRIVE-Safe Act isn’t just a jobs bill. At its core, it’s a safety program that will train tomorrow’s drivers above and beyond current standards so they are prepared once they hit the road. Under this bill, a driver under the age of 21 must first meet the requirements necessary to obtain a CDL. Once this happens, the driver needs to complete a rigorous, two-step program that involves at least 400 hours of on-duty time and 240 hours of driving time with an experienced driver in the cab with them. He or she must demonstrate core competencies in driving and maneuvering skills according to 12 performance benchmarks before being allowed to drive across state lines without supervision.
All trucks used for training in the program must be equipped with leading safety technologies, including forward-facing video event capture, active braking collision mitigation systems, and a speed governor not to exceed 65 miles per hour.
The International Foodservice Distributors Association and American Trucking Associations have backed the DRIVE-Safe Act from the beginning. In June 2018, we were joined in our commitment by more than forty industry groups, including the American Beverage Association, National Council of Chain Restaurants, National Grocers Association, and National Restaurant Association. Together, we drafted and submitted a letter to Rep. Bill Shuster, Chair and Rep. Peter DeFazio, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure urging them to address the truck driver shortage and pass this common-sense legislation.
In August, we were met with more support from Congress as U.S. Senators Todd Young (R-IN), Jerry Moran (R-KS), and James M. Inhofe (R-OK) introduced the Senate companion bill of the DRIVE-Safe Act (S.3352) on August 16, 2018.
Each day, the foodservice distribution industry delivers food and supplies to over one million professional kitchens across the country. We are responsible for keeping these businesses cooking. The country’s current truck driver shortage has the potential to hit the foodservice distribution industry hard. With drivers in limited supply, wait times for deliveries will go up and the cost to get food and supplies delivered safely and on-time will increase, too. These costs will hit the pocketbooks of American businesses and consumers alike—from chefs purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables for their daily menus to customers enjoying a meal at their favorite restaurant.
With some 225 million meals consumed outside the home every day in the U.S. alone, the role of drivers in the foodservice distribution industry is more important than ever. The DRIVE-Safe Act will create good paying jobs for the emerging workforce while reinforcing a culture of safety. It will preserve the economy and efficiency of our nation’s food supply chain by keeping our nation’s freight on the move. And it will ensure the safety of our highways and roads by giving a new generation of drivers the skills they need to operate a truck in the 21st century.
The DRIVE-Safe Act is common-sense legislation we can all get behind. Now is the time for Congress to act and swiftly enact this legislation so we can keep moving, safely, across the country.
Jon Eisen is senior vice president of government relations at the International Foodservice Distributors Association.