Today’s high school graduates are faced with harder career choices than generations past. Over time, increases in productivity and foreign competition have led to fewer well-paid manufacturing jobs here in the United States. And those who pursue college degrees are soon strapped with punishing debt loads that they’re stuck with for decades, as they navigate tight job markets and often stagnant wages.
This has become the greatest political and economic issue of our time: the narrowing pathway to middle-class living.
Fortunately, there are still vital industries today that offer that future — the opportunity for a steady, good-paying job without needing a four-year degree and bearing the exorbitant cost of tuition.
One such industry is trucking. Virtually every good we use in our daily lives gets to stores and our homes thanks to professional truck drivers. And with the explosion of e-commerce and online shopping in recent years, trucking is in greater demand than ever — leading to a national shortage of truck drivers.
Today, there are 18,350 trucking companies in Minnesota, providing 137,530 jobs throughout the state. These jobs pay well, too, with an average salary of $50,627. It is not uncommon for an experienced driver for a private carrier to earn as much as $80,000 yearly, plus benefits.
Regrettably, there are regulatory roadblocks today that deny young Minnesotans the opportunity to pursue this path.
While it is legal in Minnesota (and every state in the U.S. except Hawaii and Alaska) for 18-year-olds to obtain a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) and operate trucks in intrastate commerce, a federal rule prevents them from participating in interstate commerce.
What this means in practice is that a 20-year-old Minnesotan can drive a truck 370 miles across the state from Rochester to International Falls and back — but she is legally barred from driving the single mile from Moorhead across the border into Fargo, N.D.
This makes no sense. Worst of all, it denies these young job seekers access to the lucrative freight corridor connecting Minnesota to Chicago and the commercial hubs throughout the Midwest. Unable to participate in interstate commerce, where the greater pay is, they are wooed away to other industries like manufacturing, retail and food service.
Fortunately, there is a solution. The bipartisan DRIVE-Safe Act introduced in Congress would fix this legal loophole and align federal rules with the laws currently in place in the states, allowing CDL holders under the age of 21 to operate in interstate commerce and cross state lines. The bill has 32 Democrat and Republican cosponsors in the Senate, and more than 100 in the House.
Most important, this bill would increase safety on America’s highways by significantly strengthening safety and training standards for 18- to 20-year-old drivers and raising that bar far above where it is today. Under the DRIVE-Safe Act, an 18- to 20-year-old candidate must still first obtain a CDL by passing the standard skills and knowledge tests, as they do today. However, under this legislation, young candidates would then be mandated to undergo two rigorous probationary periods totaling 400 hours, while being graded against specific performance benchmarks, including interstate driving, city traffic, rural lanes and evening driving; safety awareness; speed and space management; lane control, mirror scanning and right and left turns; log compliance; backing and maneuvering in close quarters; pre-tip inspections; trip planning, map reading and navigation; and much more.
Candidates would be required to complete this probationary period under the supervision of an experienced truck driver in the cab with them.
Even further, any truck operated by the 18- 20-year-old apprentice during this training period must have (1) automatic or automatic-manual transmissions; (2) active braking collision mitigation systems; (3) forward facing video event capture; and (4) governed speeds of 65 mph at the pedal and 65 mph under adaptive cruise control.
Apprentices involved in a “preventable accident” or “a moving violation that is reportable to DOT” would be subject to remediation and additional hours of training until they demonstrate the 10 performance benchmarks to the employer’s satisfaction.
By establishing new and rigorous safety standards that far exceed current requirements for 18- to 20-year-old truck drivers, the DRIVE-Safe Act would improve highway safety while opening the industry up to a new pool of highly trained talent. If we can train and send our nation’s young men and women overseas to fight our wars, there is no credible reason we cannot train them to operate a commercial motor vehicle across state lines.
Above all, the DRIVE-Safe Act would open doors of opportunity for young Minnesotans to begin a career in trucking immediately after high school. Trucking is absolutely vital to our state’s economy, and with the passage of this bill, it can play an enormous role in providing bountiful job opportunities for our high school graduates.
Minnesota’s vital trucking industry calls on U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, and Reps. Angie Craig, Dean Phillips, Collin Peterson and Pete Stauber to lend their support and cosponsor this bill. It would be a major benefit to their constituents, to safety on our highways, and to our economy.
John Hausladen is president and CEO of the Minnesota Trucking Association.