MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — 69 trade organizations, including the International Food Service Distributors Association (IFDA), agree that America needs more truck drivers.

Mark Allen, the President and CEO of IFDA, said those same trade organizations are joining the call along with a significant bipartisan coalition in Congress to find a piece of legislation to attach the DRIVE-Safe Act (S. 569, H.R. 1374) — repealing a near-century old regulation that limits truck drivers under the age of 21 from bringing goods across state lines.

“There are not enough people entering the profession,” he said. “Not enough people driving. About 70 percent of America’s freight moves via truck, so it is driving consumer prices up. It’s hurting companies’ ability to grow their business. It’s hurting the customer.”

According to IFDA numbers, the nation needs 50,000 truck drivers immediately and 174,000 by 2026. Allen said these are near “crisis levels.” The solution, at least part of it, is allowing younger people to enter the profession without restriction.

“You can drive within the state boundaries, but you can’t cross state lines,” he said. “Somebody could at 18 years old get a CDL and drive an 18-wheel truck from Parkersburg, West Virginia to Martinsburg, West Virginia — about eight and a half hours round trip — but they couldn’t drive from Parkersburg over the river into Ohio.”

The regulation currently in place dates back to the 1930’s, and even Allen admitted he couldn’t account for the history of the regulation. Now, he says, with modern technology and the right training program, there’s no reason an 18-year-old shouldn’t be able to operate as a full driver.

“It would allow somebody to go through an apprenticeship program,” Allen said. “And, in return, they’d have to spend 400 hours driving a vehicle. They’d have to get their Commercial Driving License, they’d have the 400 hours of drive time with an experienced driver in the cab of the truck with them, and that experienced driver would be monitoring and checking off certain skills and certain attributes necessary to do the job.”

Of the 400 hours spent in the vehicle, 240 would require the driving-in-training behind the wheel. An apprentice can’t exceed speeds of 65 miles per hour.

“Once the individual has gone through that apprenticeship program, they would then be able to drive in interstate commerce,” he said. “They would be able to drive and cross state boundaries. And our hope is that this would attract younger people into a profession that pays pretty well and would increase and improve the driver pool.”

Allen also said removing this restriction would make it more feasible for recruiters to recruit fresh high school graduates.

“This industry pays on average $63,000 for a driver,” he said. “We feel it’s kind of a great gateway into the middle class for a person that might not have college on the horizon.”

Harris Poll conducted a survey of 2,015 adults aged 18 and older and found 86 percent had expressed support in some fashion for the DRIVE-Safe Act.

According to a June 2018 Washington Post report, there is some dissent inside the industry — though it’s mixed and based on questions over the safety hazards that often face young drivers.

The bipartisan group of lawmakers currently supporting the legislation includes seven U.S. Senators — four Republicans, two Democrats, and one independent. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is among those who support the DRIVE-Safe Act.

In the House, ten members — five Democrats and five Republicans — have offered their support.