Safety advocates claim that putting younger truckers behind the wheel to fill a driver shortage for the trucking industry could prove dangerous. The White House plans to put a pilot program in place that lowers the required driving age for interstate truckers to 18 years of age.
The Trucking Industry Wants Young Drivers
House Republicans recently introduced a bill to lower the commercial truck driving age. According to current federal regulations, commercial truck drivers must be at least 21 years old to cross state lines while driving a large truck, but the new bill will lower the age to 18 for drivers who pass required tests. Under a pilot program through the Department of Transportation, some drivers as young as 18 will be allowed to drive cross-country for private trucking companies. The program will be available to accepted drivers who meet requirements, as well as some members of the national guard and others with military experience through the Drive Safe Act. While President Trump has not announced his formal position on the bill, he is setting the groundwork for a lower driving age through the pilot program legislation.
The rising number of truckers who are reaching retirement age and stressful job requirements have resulted in a significant shortage of commercial truck drivers. According to the American Trucking Association, the trucking industry will see a shortage of about 63,000 truck drivers in 2018. The shortage is causing higher consumer prices, higher trucking expenses, and delayed deliveries across the country. The food service industry has been especially hard hit by the shortage of truck drivers. The International Food Distributors Association says that the new legislation will provide long-term jobs for young drivers within the food services industry. The American Trucking Association also supports the proposed bill. They say that it will open up a lot of opportunities for young people between 18 and 21 and give them access to a high-paying profession without a required four-year degree.
Currently, about 51,000 more drivers are needed to meet the demand from companies including Amazon and Walmart that are shipping more goods across the country. With current age restrictions, the trucking industry has not been able to compete against other professions to attract younger people to their industry. While some trucking companies are raising pay to lure more drivers into the industry, others are offering more benefits to offset long work hours and weeks away from home while on the road. Many trucking companies are so desperate for drivers they are offering signing bonuses, as well as significant pay raises.
Legislation is Raising Safety Concerns
While the American Trucking Association supports training programs that promote safety for younger drivers, many other organizations are raising safety concerns. Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety state that younger drivers are involved in more driving accidents than older drivers. Drivers between the ages of 18 and 21 are among the group of drivers with the highest accident rates. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), teenage drivers between the ages of 16 and 19 are three times more likely than 20-year-old drivers to be involved in fatal crashes. This age group is linked to 11 percent of all motor vehicles crashes.
Trucking is a high-risk profession, even for experienced truckers. Every year, approximately 600 truckers are killed in trucking accidents while doing their job. The injuries and fatalities that truckers face are caused by truck collisions and fuel fires, but long-term health problems linked to circulation disorders and respiratory disorders from fume inhalations also make trucking a dangerous profession.
The trucking industry’s answer to trucking safety concerns suggests that the new bill should mandate extra supervision and a maximum driving speed of 65 mph for young trucking trainees. They recommend that the bill should require teenage drivers to restrict logged hours of on-duty driving to 400 hours and work with an experienced driver in the truck for 240 hours before getting licensed to cross state lines. Despite safety concerns, the trucking industry fully supports lowering the age limit for young truckers to help with the shortage of truck drivers and the rising costs to consumers.
Although trucking presents safety risks, advocates of the industry claim that trucking remains one of the few roads in today’s economy that leads to the middle class without requiring a college degree. It’s a challenging career path, to be sure, but the chance to see the country while earning $53,000 to $86,000 per year plus benefits represents a significant opportunity and solid career for millions of younger Americans. The American Trucking Association and the Trump administrations are hoping that lowering the driving age to 18 will attract young people to the trucking profession and fill a desperately needed shortage of drivers.