The trucking industry has been in a pickle for a long time. As it struggles to seat enough drivers to meet demand, its crash rate has been rising. Some have looked to younger drivers to fill this demand, while others have complained that they may not have the temperament to operate safely, pointing to data indicating that younger drivers (of personal vehicles) are less safe than their older counterparts. Some in the industry counter by pointing out that casual drivers shouldn’t be compared to well-trained professional drivers and that new entry-level driver training (ELDT) rules will help bridge that gap. FMCSA has begun enrolling carriers and drivers to participate in its Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program, which has long been advocated for by the trucking industry. This is the first step toward testing this theory.

We at STC are big fans of driver training and coaching programs. They work. They are also an important step to professionalizing our workforce, raising the bar to entry, and making sure those that do join our ranks have the skills and support necessary to be successful. As we do this, interest in trucking as a career choice rises. Now, transportation trade publications are reporting that interest in driver training programs is overwhelming, and we are short of qualified instructors to handle spiking enrollment. Meanwhile, States are struggling to keep pace with the demand for CDL testing.

Unfortunately, our success in promoting this great industry is being met by predictable institutional barriers which don’t lend themselves to creativity. For example, States have been slow to adopt third-party CDL testing, while some federal regulators object to trainer programs designed to produce qualified instructors to meet the growing demand.

We need to keep our eye on the ball — big problems require holistic solutions. They require flexibility and creativity, and a willingness to try something new. As an industry, we’ve proven we can do this. Let’s not let this opportunity escape us. Interested workers need our help. We need to redouble our efforts on getting good trainers into the fold, while at the same time not relaxing our standards or letting artificial institutional barriers impede progress. We need to be open to creative ideas that maintain safety while driving efficiencies that deliver more professional drivers for our industry.

The next generation of truckers is counting on us.