Weekly Legislative Update June 7, 2021

Highway Reauthorization Overview

Senate:

Progress is being made on the infrastructure front thanks to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works' unanimous approval of the bipartisan, “Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2021.” This approximately $304 billion 5-year bill (FYs 2022-2026) reflects a 34% increase over FAST Act funding levels. Additionally, 90% of the funds would be distributed via formula programs and are intended to help both urban and rural areas.

The bill was approved 20 to 0 and includes not only significant highway and bridge investment but also a major funding increase for roadway safety, important streamlining provisions, and preserves flexibility to invest in both new capacity and improvements to existing roadways that will make every road user’s trip safer and more reliable.

Full text of the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act approved last week can be found here. Additional materials include a one-pager and tables for apportionments and authorizations.

House:

In the House, the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has confirmed that they plan to markup their transportation reauthorization bill on June 9. The slight delay was due to the large number of earmark requests that were submitted and the need for staff to go through each one. Additionally, the committee has been working to incorporate pieces of the American Jobs Plan into their bill text.

White House:

Negotiations continue between the White House and Senate Republicans on a possible infrastructure package. Offers continue to be sent back and forth with the latest round coming from the Republicans for $928 billion and while they are getting closer on a funding level for a package, they are still far apart on payfors. 

TIA Supports the DRIVE SAFE ACT

(S.659, H.R.1745)

As a testament to the severity of the national truck driver shortage and its far-reaching impacts throughout the supply chain, more than 120 organizations including TIA have endorsed the DRIVE Safe Act as a way to address the growing shortage and promote opportunity and enhanced safety training for emerging members of the transportation workforce.

The Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy (DRIVE) Safe Act would establish an apprenticeship program to train 18- to 20-year-old qualified drivers who satisfy common-sense safety, training, and technology requirements to operate in interstate commerce. The bill would remove the single biggest barrier preventing entry into the truck driving profession and equip young people with skills for jobs whose median pay is $54,585, plus health and retirement benefits.

BACKGROUND: Previously introduced in both the 115th and 116th Congresses with strong bipartisan support, the DRIVE Safe Act would enable 18- to 20-year-old apprentices—who have obtained their commercial driver’s licenses (CDL) to drive trucks in intrastate commerce—to drive trucks safely in interstate commerce. The bill would amend the current minimum age requirement for interstate drivers, which was promulgated decades ago, to allow these qualified drivers to operate in interstate commerce once they have completed the following apprenticeship program requirements:

1) Satisfy a minimum of 400 hours of training and 11 performance benchmarks;

2) Complete those hours of training under the supervision of an experienced professional driver; and

3) Train in trucks equipped with industry-leading safety technologies, such as Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB), event recorders/cameras, speed-limiters, and automatic transmissions.

Currently, forty-nine states and the District of Columbia allow individuals to obtain a CDL to operate commercial motor vehicles in intrastate commerce before they turn 21. However, federal regulations prohibit those same drivers from crossing state lines until they turn 21. Given that forty-nine states and the District of Columbia have already determined that these drivers do not inherently pose a safety risk to other motorists, it is consistent for these same 18- to 20-year-olds to be allowed to drive across state lines. The DRIVE Safe Act would allow certified CDL holders already permitted to carry intrastate goods the opportunity to participate in a rigorous apprenticeship program designed to help them master interstate driving, while also promoting enhanced safety training for emerging members of the workforce.

IMPACT: The trucking industry is currently facing a shortage of more than 60,000 qualified drivers, coupled with a projected need to hire 1.1 million new drivers over the next decade to keep up with increasing freight demand and workforce retirements. Younger drivers in particular are needed; the median age of an over-the-road truck driver is 49—seven years older than the average U.S. worker. However, careers in trucking are out of reach for many otherwise-qualified 18- to 20-year-olds because the minimum age requirement represents an insurmountable barrier to entry. If motor carriers could reach this pool of potential truck driver candidates earlier in their careers, the trucking industry would be in a better position to help candidates develop the skills, habits, and attitudes necessary for a long and satisfying career in the trucking industry.

As a result of the already-crippling driver shortage, companies in supply chains across the nation are facing higher transportation costs, leading to increased prices for consumers on everything from electronics to food. The DRIVE Safe Act will help to move our nation’s freight and meet increasing demand while preserving and enhancing the safety of our highway system. It will help fill desperately-needed jobs and provide younger Americans with the opportunity to enter a profession with a median salary of $54,585, plus health and retirement benefits. And it will bolster and support our nation’s supply chain, which is an issue of heightened urgency as our nation recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

SOLUTION: The 120+ members of the DRIVE Safe Coalition (Including TIA) urge co-sponsorship of the DRIVE Safe Act and support for the legislation’s inclusion in a surface transportation reauthorization package.