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We are not doing our best to solve the truck driver shortage

May 4, 2022, 9:45 PM UTC
Automated vehicle technologies could significantly improve the job of a truck driver and the efficiency of the transportation industry.
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The nationwide supply chain crisis triggered by the pandemic has led to bare shelves and price inflation at grocery stores–and focused attention on the workforce challenges confronting the trucking industry.

Increasing trucker compensation has helped–but it didn’t solve the chronic driver shortages. In fact, cumbersome licensing and testing processes continue to limit the number of new drivers entering the industry. The administration has been slow to promulgate driver-assist technology policy, and a leadership vacuum persists at the federal agency regulating commercial trucks.

Let’s start with obtaining a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to operate a truck, a prerequisite for all professional truckers. An entry-level driver training rule that took effect in February mandates that all aspiring CDL holders complete a training program from a registered provider before they take the skills test. Prior to the new policy, drivers had more choice in how they developed the competencies needed to pass the exam, thereby enabling more workers to enter the industry.

An apprenticeship program for younger drivers, slated to launch soon, is a step in the right direction. Established by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, the pilot initiative removes a restriction in the interstate trucking law prohibiting 18 to 21-year-olds from driving commercial vehicles out of state or transporting interstate goods within their own state. Unfortunately, Congress has capped the number of participants in the pilot at 3,000, eliminating thousands of qualified younger workers from the driver pool.

To improve the safety and efficiency of the trucking industry, lawmakers need to expedite the regulatory process tied to driver-assist technologies.

Data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has shown that forward collision mitigation technology can reduce front-end commercial vehicle accidents by up to 44%. After years of discussion and federally funded studies, it seems we are finally close to mandating automatic emergency braking (AEB) in heavy trucks.

Automated vehicle technologies will significantly improve the job of a truck driver and the efficiency of the transportation industry. We urge the administration to move quickly to approve uniform policy and to establish safety-first nationwide rules for driver-assist and self-driving technologies.

More than ever, we need bold leadership at the federal level to propel the industry forward. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)–which regulates the commercial vehicle industry’s more than 500,000 trucking firms and four million CDL holders–has operated without permanent leadership since 2019.

Having served as an acting administrator of FMCSA myself, I applaud the Biden administration for their recent nomination of FMCSA Deputy Administrator Robin Hutcheson to serve as administrator and urge the U.S. Senate to swiftly confirm her nomination, enabling the agency to advance critical initiatives tied to driver shortages and new safety technologies.

Let’s harness the power of innovation, regulatory reform, and FMCSA leadership to support and grow a new generation of highly skilled professional truck and fleet operators who will keep our economy moving today–and into the future.

Wiley Deck is the vice president of government affairs and public policy at Plus and the former acting administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

The opinions expressed in Fortune.com Commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors, and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.

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