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National truck driver shortage raises questions about age requirement

To drive a commercial truck across state lines, people need to be at least 21 years old.

BOISE, Idaho — The truck driver shortage is at an all-time high in the country, with 80,000 open positions across the country, according to Idaho Governor Brad Little. Truck driving schools said a big impact of the shortage is because there are more drivers retiring and leaving, than new truckers obtaining their CDL licenses.

"It's a unique industry, where it's one of the few that is intertwined with every other trade," said Harry Packwood, the owner of Idaho CDL Training.

Working in the trucking industry since he was 18-years-old, Packwood, who now trains drivers, said there have been shortage problems for as long as he can remember. However, the problems have significantly increased in the last year or two with more than 20,000 additional drivers needed, he said. 

"It's disappointing for everybody," Packwood said. "The disappointing part is when you go to a store, for most folks, they're looking for [supplies] or groceries or whatever and you're not getting the items you want or it's taking longer to get stuff."

He adds that a lot of the supply shortage issues that are currently going on are from truck driver shortages. According to Packwood, 70 percent of the country's freight is hauled on a truck.

In about eight years, Packwood believes the industry will need to hire about 1,000,000 new drivers because of the amount that plan to retire or leave. He said the industry has an older workforce, which during the pandemic, forced many to make the decision to stay home or stop driving trucks.

"There's debate in the industry and with people in the industry, whether those younger folks should drive a commercial vehicle across the state lines," Packwood said. "I think it's a conversation that needs to be had." 

To drive a commercial truck across state lines, people need to be at least 21-years-old. Packwood would like to see state leaders do something about the minimum age because it would be easier to enroll students into the industry right out of high school. 

"We're losing those young people to other industries," Packwood said.

The Idaho Department of Labor backs up Packwood's claim of young adults coming out of high school having difficulty breaking into the industry.

"It's an expensive course for a very, short time period and it's also hard to get an insurance license until you're a little older," said Jan Roeser, a regional economist with the Idaho Department of Labor. 

Roeser also said people also need to pass certain medical exams and have a clean driving record.

Idaho CDL Training works with companies that seek to get their employees CDL certified, so Packwood has seen a few companies pay for the training. However, Roeser said because of how expensive the investment is, that is not the case everywhere.

Roeser mentions the Department of Labor's ten-year projection does not show the trucking industry growing all that fast.

"We anticipate there will be some automation that may occur, we also anticipate that there are other forms of transportation that are filling in, so we see a lot of our planes being used for our FedEx packages," Roeser explained.

However, even in an ever-changing society, Packwood said there will always continue to be a need for drivers and there are many opportunities people can have locally, too.

"The incentives are going up, the sign-up bonuses are getting bigger, they're raising wages and retirement programs," Packwood said.

Another improvement Packwood would like to see is more women in the industry. He said there is a small percentage on the road at the moment, so it would help the growth tremendously. 

"There's a lot of adventure out there and a lot of rewarding things ahead if you put a CDL in your pocket," Packwood said.

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