Coronavirus puts trucker training at risk

Driver training schools, motor vehicle departments are closed

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Concerns surrounding a shortage of big-rig drivers are now being exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic as state motor vehicle departments remained closed.

America’s trucking industry, which is seen as the lifeblood of the U.S. economy, could be threatened because training schools are closed and social distancing mandates remain in place.

"If the estimates hold, you're not only going to see the driver shortage return, you're going to see the driver shortage on steroids because we are not producing the same number or level of drivers that we would on a normal year," Commercial Vehicle Training Association CEO Don Lefeve told FOX Business Thursday.

However, some drivers claim they are not facing a shortage and instead companies are trying to keep the market flooded so salaries stay low.

IS THE TRUCK DRIVER SHORTAGE REALLY AS BAD AS IT SEEMS?

The trucking industry moves nearly 71 percent of all freight in the U.S., however, it is heavily reliant on a vast number of trained and certified drivers to keep the supply chain running, according to estimates by the association, which is the largest association of commercial truck driving schools in the country.

Truck driver Camilo Diaz of Miami wears a mask after parking his rig at the Flying J Truck Stop during the outbreak of the new coronavirus on April 11, 2020, in Aurora, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

This comes as businesses, specifically grocers, are clamoring to restock supplies. Andrew Novakovic, an agricultural economist at Cornell University, told Forbes that already weak spots in the food transportation system can be further weakened as the demand for food increases.

He cautioned that transportation connects all stages of the supply chain which is why this shortage could threaten food supply if the demand for groceries continues.

The closure of state DMVs and commercial driver's license training facilities "risks cutting off supply chain on a national level, potentially undermining the country’s ability to respond and recover from COVID-19," the association cautioned earlier this month.

Dozens of states have closed their DMVs while others are temporarily operating on a limited basis.

However, in response to the crisis, late last month the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued a three-month waiver for states and commercial learner's permit holders. The waiver allows a driver with a CLP to operate a commercial vehicle without having someone with a commercial driver's license in the front seat, provided that the CDL holder is elsewhere in the cab. This means that during this time, CLP drivers can continue to train even with the closures DMVs.

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FOX Business' Jeff Flock contributed to this report.