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Will FAST Act provisions help solve truck driver shortage issue?

It is no secret that the United States faces economic challenges. One of them, as we pointed out in at least one post in the not-too-distant past, is the fact that there is a growing shortage in Illinois and elsewhere of people willing to get into the truck driving trade.

On the face of it, this might seem to be something that simple market forces should be able to handle. The law of supply and demand dictates that where demand exists, the market responds by filling it. But that presumes a strict free market, and one could well argue that the trucking industry does not quite fit that bill.

Driving a truck does have its allure but it is hardly an easy job. It requires a specific set of training and experience just to get licensed. If a driver does get hired, it means days away from home. There are many regulations regarding when they can drive, when they can't and how heavy their loads can be.

Pay can vary and in some circumstances the method of payment and the demands of shippers are such that it actually motivates drivers to violate the rules. That has a way of creating conditions that result in catastrophic truck accidents.

As our post in June noted, companies have sought to address the shortage by offering perks like satellite TV and other enhancements for on-the-road comfort. In all the discussion, though, there doesn't seem to be much said about bumping up pay.

There are some who hope that the $305 billion highway funding bill recently signed into law will do something to correct the problem. Among its provisions is one that opens the door to interstate hauling by some teenage drivers. Current law requires that long-haul drivers be 21 or older.

The final version represents a compromise between proponents who sought the lower age and those who say letting younger drivers drive big rigs will just increase accident risks. What the law does is create a pilot program under which military veterans and service people as young as 18 will be able to drive as long as they have experience by virtue of their military training.

Do you think it will help?

Source: Bloomberg, "Teen-Trucker Provisions Scaled Back in Final Highway Bill," Jeff Plungis, Dec. 3, 2015

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