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Trucks dot I-80 in Council Bluffs in 2015.

Crete Carrier Corp. President Tim Aschoff said the pilot study to let 18- to 20-year-old off-duty National Guard and Reserve truck drivers operate civilian vehicles in interstate commerce is “a good first step.”

Aschoff attended the recent Omaha press conference where U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao discussed plans for the study.

“We’d be interested in participating,” Aschoff said afterward.

His firm, based in Crete, Nebraska, has 5,400 drivers and could use 600 more to meet demand, he said, so broadening the pool of available drivers is a good idea.

Aschoff said safety is important, and the pilot study might show that the younger drivers aren’t worth the risk. But he said Crete’s experience is that new drivers, no matter how old, have more accidents than experienced drivers.

Aschoff said there’s some hope of easing the driver shortage thanks to efforts to encourage young people to go into skilled trades rather than steering everyone to four-year colleges.

Driving is a skilled trade, too, he said, and Crete drivers’ incomes average $70,000 a year.

Jim Schelble, executive vice president of Omaha-based Werner Enterprises, said he is “interested in anything that would add to the supply of professional individuals into this industry,” with safety “paramount to anything being done.”

Werner, with 7,400 trucks on the road, wants to hire “many hundreds” more drivers, he said. Werner hired about the same number of drivers in 2017 as in 2016 and improved its retention so it could increase its fleet by about 300 trucks, bringing in more revenue.

“The driver challenge is absolutely real, and it continues to become more and more challenging,” Schelble said, with an aging driver corps, a growing economy and consumers who expect rapid home delivery of almost anything.

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