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U.S. Air Force photo by Lisa M. Macias.

US regulators and insurance companies must reduce restrictions impeding younger drivers entering the haulage sector if the country is to avert a supply chain catastrophe.

Hauliers claim easing the regulations and policies around the age at which new drivers can both qualify and become “insurable” would make a significant dent in the 63,000, and growing, driver shortage.

Montway Auto Transportation CEO Dimitre Kirilov told The Loadstar: “Change in regulations and easing insurance requirements will go a long way to improving recruitment.

“There’s a minimum age of 21 to qualify and, at the same time, drivers with less than two years’ experience or are younger than 25 are almost non-insurable. And new driver enrolment at driving schools has plummeted.”

The American Trucking Association (ATA) has called for 110,000 recruits to be hired every year for the next decade to stave off a national supply chain crisis.

However, Griley Airfreight’s Kate Griley said meeting these targets would be impossible without a ‘reputation fix’ for the industry and amending a licensing process that leaves larger firms, with their own reputation issues, as the only option for new drivers.

“New drivers are getting licences with restrictions, like ‘automatic [transmission-driven] only’, but firms like ours only have manual tractors,” Ms Griley told The Loadstar.

“Most trainees don’t realise they have these restrictions, so the only place they can get work are the larger companies.”

Insurance issues are not unique to the US, many smaller UK hauliers put off hiring new drivers because of increased premiums, but like one small UK operator, Ms Griley has sought to provide a route into haulage for newly licensed drivers.

“We hire them as ‘bobtail drivers’ [moving semis without trailers around yards] to gain experience and have created a programme for Class C licence holders to become Class As,” said Ms Griley.

“They go through our insurance company-approved training programme and can get their Class A, and our turnover rate’s thankfully low – 10% for newcomers – and those that leave don’t like the air freight work we do. Long-haul drivers want to stay long-haul, drayage drivers are used to drayage and airfreight drivers stay in airfreight. They stay in their comfort zone.”

Mr Kirilov believes there is “no single solution” to the shortage, and warned that simply recruiting with higher pay would not provide a new generation of drivers, especially as reports suggest the shortage will continue to worsen for at least the next five years.

“It’s become a growing issue and is being discussed in the Capitol as lawmakers, regulators and the industry find ways to secure the nation’s overall supply chain,” he added.

“Young people and women simply don’t want to be drivers, [in part because] there is a stigma, an issue the industry as a whole needs to address in order to recruit a wider range of driver demographics.”

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