ST. LOUIS — Missouri lawmakers are proposing new changes to the trucking industry to increase the number of drivers on the road and ease supply chain woes.

Around the country, Americans continue to feel the effects of the supply chain crisis. Here in St. Louis, it’s no exception. Truck drivers are an integral part of the supply chain, moving $1 trillion worth of goods through Missouri each year.

Since the pandemic, there’s been a strain on those behind the wheel as the demand to move freight reaches record levels.

“It is comparable to a natural disaster due to the pandemic and we need to treat it as such,” said Angie’s Transportation Owner, Angelina Twardawe.

The American Trucking Association estimates that the United States is over 80,000 drivers short. Governor Parson joined 13 states proposing changes to the trucking industry and a special task force.
 
“We’re going to be traveling around the state, talking to stakeholders and talking to Missourians and citizens in those communities to say, ‘What are your bottlenecks? What can we do to help you remove those barriers?'” said Mardy Leathers, the director of the Missouri Office of Workforce Development and the co-chair of the Missouri Supply Chain Task Force.

One of the changes Missouri is mulling would increase the weight limit of a big rig from 80,000 to 88,000 pounds. The other would lower the minimum age requirement from 21 to 18.

Some truck drivers are not in favor of the age change.

“All of these young people or most of them are playing with their phones and distracted when you’re hauling 80,000 pounds,” said Truck Driver, Brandon Wilkinson, “it’s not a fender bender, it’s a total car, it’s people dying.”

Angie on the other hand welcomes the opportunity.

“We need drivers, I think it would be perfectly fine,” said Twardawe. “It would actually balance out because a lot of the drivers we have on the road today are these baby boomers so they are getting ready to retire.”

Kevin Wright has been driving trucks for decades. Recently, he’s been moving mostly produce from California to St. Louis each week.

“The time we spend away from home is about 120 hours a week sometimes,” said Angie’s Transportation Owner-Operator, Kevin Wright.

Truckers aged 18 can already drive transports within the state, but it’s the interstate lines’ transportation that lawmakers are looking to change

“Mentally I don’t think that someone under 21 is ready for the lifestyle, going from state to state,” said Wright.

He proposes a better solution would be to crack down on the lack of efficiency at loading docks and warehouses.

“They take forever to unload us,” said Wright, “we sit there 16 hours, we have to cancel our reload and the stuff doesn’t get moved.”

But some drivers’ associations disagree pushing for more long-term remedies.

“By raising the industry, by raising pay, by raising the professionalism by making trucking a skill, by removing the overtime exemption in the fair labor standards act,” said Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association Executive Vice President, Lewie Pugh, “truckers don’t even have to be paid overtime, truckers time is not worth anything.”

Something lawmakers hope to change, in turn, easing supply chain woes with them.

Nationally, there’s currently a pilot program in place through the infrastructure bill that allows 18 year-olds to drive freight across state lines once they become certified.

As for Missouri, the next task force meeting will be held on Feb. 10.

There will be eight more meetings before recommendations are submitted this summer.