Efforts continue to expand driver qualification standards to combat the trucking industry’s now fifth-year running number one concern: driver shortages. In recent years the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”) has placed focus on increasing the pool of qualified drivers by targeting a younger demographic, an intuitive response to the en mass retirement of many older drivers. The DRIVE Safe Act is one such effort and was signed into law in November 2021 as part of Biden’s larger infrastructure bill. The goal of the DRIVE Safe Act is to further expand the driver pool to ease some of the difficulties caused by the ongoing driver shortage. This legislation allows individuals under the age of 21 who have CDLs permitting them to operate commercial vehicles intrastate to enter into an apprenticeship program to operate commercials interstate prior to reaching the age of 21. Under the apprenticeship program, 18, 19, and 20-year-old CDL drivers are required to complete 400 hours of on-duty time and 240 hours of driving time with an experienced driver in the cab. All training will be on trucks equipped with new safety technology, including speed governors and collision mitigation systems.
Another effort to deepen the pool of drivers aims to attract more women CDL drivers to the industry. Several Wisconsin lawmakers saw reintroduced legislation, the Promoting Women in Trucking Workforce Act, which focuses on tearing down industry hurdles that have long prevented women from entering the trucking industry while championing and promoting those organizations that market trucking jobs and training to women.
As of March 2021, women made up roughly 43% of America’s workforce, yet were only responsible for up to 10% of the truck-driving population. The Promoting Women in Trucking Workforce Act would require the FMCSA to establish a Women in Trucking Advisory Board which would be tasked with identifying the barriers and trends that discourage women from seeking out employment in the trucking industry. The Advisory Board would also be responsible for promoting organizations that provide training and mentorship programs for women seeking to enter the industry. The FMCSA would also be required to report to Congress on the strategies identified by the Advisory Board to encourage women to enter the industry and the actions taken to adopt the strategies.
The legislation seems to have true bi-partisan support, as it accomplishes a number of goals; expanding the driver pool, and desperate for able-bodied participants, while simultaneously providing a springboard for gender equality. More information about programs and studies supporting the legislation can be found at https://www.trucking.org/news-insights/wisconsin-congressman-mike-gallagher-champion-trucking.
While there are significant efforts to expand the driver pool, there are always hurdles to driver qualification. In order to obtain a CDL, drivers must obtain a Medical Examiner Certification. FMCSA has been working towards new standard guidance that medical examiners nationwide can look to in certifying a driver’s good health. Some areas under consideration in the new handbook include diabetes treatment, sleep apnea and hypertension.
Presently FMCSA does not require drivers to undergo specific testing for sleep apnea. However, under its current pulmonary standard, medical examiners are permitted to delve into a driver’s respiratory history to determine if they suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (“OSA”). OSA occurs when an individual attempts to breathe during sleep, but their airway becomes partially or even completely blocked. Certain physical traits are indicative of the condition, which include receding chin, neck circumference, smoking habits, body mass index, age, and hypertension. FMCSA guidance may lead to more scrutiny on drivers exhibiting these risk factors, who may find they will be tested for OSA, given the risk its onset carries for excessive daytime sleepiness and, thus, drowsy driving.
The trucking industry is working tirelessly to find solutions for the ongoing driver shortage issues. The legislation seeking to expand the driver pool, coupled with issuing guidance to streamline medical certification to ensure consistency, shows progress is being made in these efforts.
Written by associate James Harpold.