Early this spring, Beverage Industry and BNP Media Events hosted the 13th Annual BevOps Fleet Summit. This year, the event featured an educational lineup that truly addressed issues that are impacting distribution and warehouse needs, including cybersecurity, proactive safety measures, natural disasters and, of course, the impending truck driver shortage.

The dearth of truck drivers is impacting numerous industries, including beverage distribution. According to the American Trucking Association (ATA), the nation needs an estimated 50,000 additional truck drivers immediately as the shortage is expected to grow to more than 174,000 by 2026.

To help address this qualified labor shortage, bipartisan lawmakers in the Senate and House introduced the DRIVE-Safe Act, a legislation that modernizes federal law to empower the trucking industry to fill these gaps with a qualified, highly trained emerging workforce, according to a release from the International Foodservice Distributors Association (IFDA).

The legislation is designed to allow drivers younger than 21 years of age an opportunity to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL), requiring participants to undergo a strict workforce training program featuring rigorous benchmarks, according to a blog post from the American Beverage Association (ABA), one of more than 50 industry trade groups supporting the DRIVE-Safe Act.

“To gain certification, drivers must have spotless driving records and accompany a CDL-certified driver for 400 hours in the cab, with at least 240 hours being behind the wheel,” ABA’s post states. “Vehicles used in the program would be required to have the latest safety technology, including active braking collision mitigation systems; forward-facing event recording cameras; speed governors set at 65 miles per hour or less; and automatic or automatic manual transmissions. These apprenticeship requirements ensure well-qualified drivers are on the roads transporting our industry’s products.”

Katherine Lugar, ABA president and chief executive officer, highlights the value of this legislation. “We’re facing a serious shortage of truck drivers in the country that’s increasing costs and hurting the economy,” she says. “The DRIVE-Safe Act backed by a bipartisan group of lawmakers in both the House and Senate would open up new, well-paying jobs for America’s growing blue collar workforce in industries that are known for developing talent and providing opportunities for advancement.”

The DRIVE-Safe Act not only has bipartisan support from lawmakers and a coalition from trade organizations, but the American public also is showing favor to the proposed legislation. According to a Harris Poll commissioned by the IFDA, 86 percent of Americans showed backing of the DRIVE-Safe Act — after answering questions that gauged awareness and understanding of the driver shortage and current federal laws. For instance, 48 states currently allow drivers to obtain a commercial driver’s license at 18; however, federal law prohibits these adults from driving commerce across state lines until they are 21.

The survey also highlighted that 95 percent of Americans believe that the current commercial truck driver shortage has an impact on U.S. consumers, and a majority believe higher shipping costs for businesses/consumers (71 percent), delayed/slower shipping times (70 percent), and increased costs of consumer goods like groceries and restaurant meals (58 percent) are happening as a result of the shortage. The Harris Poll survey was conducted online from March 5 to 7, among 2,015 U.S. adults ages 18 and older, according to the IFDA.

As this driver shortage continues to proliferate, the time is now to act and fix it.