Trucking industry leaders pleaded with South Carolina lawmakers during a hearing this week to respond to a worsening driver shortage, warning the number of drivers is in decline even though the demand for them is rapidly expanding.
“No drivers means no products that move,” Southeastern Freight Lines regional vice president Richard Bogan said to a House Education & Public Works subcommittee on Tuesday. He noted that driver shortages could mean longer wait times for deliveries, hurting customers.
A legislative-sponsored study two years ago estimated South Carolina was about 2,000 drivers short of demand needs, in line with national trends. South Carolina Trucking Association President Rick Todd warned the panel that deficit will likely increase in the coming years as many drivers reach retirement age.
“On this current trajectory, without enough trucks, we will slow the velocity of the supply chain and therefore the economy,” Todd said. “There is no silver bullet, but we ask you to help us make trucking cool again.”
Todd blamed popular attitudes about the trucking profession and an increase in students seeking college degrees for the gap in lower drivers. Also not helping is a federal law that does not allow truckers to get an interstate commercial driver license (CDL) before age 21. He argued many potential 18-20 year-old hires have decided on a different profession by the time they reach the legal truck driving age.
Department of Motor Vehicles director Kevin Shwedo supports lowering the age for a CDL license, pointing to his time in the military. “I put soldiers on the road in combat every day. They were all 18 years old,” he said. “They were driving cross-country while dodging bullets. And when they come back, I can’t put them on the damn highway.”
The committee questioned drivers and business leaders about what is causing the shortage. Driver John Ross of Timmonsville-based Ard Trucking said the threat of lawsuits and disrespect for the job scare many away.
“Being out there with these other drivers and getting into an accident that is not my fault could be pinned on me,” he said. “And that’s not just a ticket for me. That’s my livelihood — gone.”
Todd said tort laws should be changed so that truckers are not held strictly liable for their actions when another driver may be at fault.
Study committee chair State Rep. Jay West, R-Belton, said the panel will hold additional meetings before crafting potential legislation early next year. He did express support for increasing scholarship for technical college driver training, but noted lowering the truck driving age would be a federal government issue.