Teens as Interstate Truckers?

Being a teenager is an exciting time, filled with many firsts. Though your first job may be less anticipated than your first kiss, it serves as a life-long benchmark in financial responsibility, maturity and independence. Maybe you took tickets at the movies, delivered newspapers, bagged groceries, scooped ice cream or answered phones. If the trucking industry gets its way, driving 40-ton trucks across state lines could get added to that list. Although you generally have to be 25 years old to rent a car, most of the states already allow 18-year-olds to drive big-rigs within state boundaries. However, federal law prohibits them from operating across borders into neighboring states. According to 2013 findings from the Transportation Department’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, drivers aged 18 to 20 had a 66 percent higher fatal crash involvement rate than drivers who were 21 or older. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has said that there is “unequivocal scientific evidence of a markedly elevated crash risk among people younger than 21 who drive large trucks.” Commercial tractor-trailers already present huge safety risks to the general public and are involved in thousands of accidents every year. Safety advocates argue that allowing inexperienced teens to drive trucks weighing as much as 80,000 pounds and to work as many as 82 hours a week, as is permitted in the truck industry, can only combine into a recipe for disaster, resulting in more trucking wrecks, more deaths, and more injuries. On the flip side, many in the trucking business view teen drivers as good for the industry, the economy and commerce. In fact, the change was sought by the trucking industry to help address a shortage of manpower. It has been estimated that the current driver shortage is roughly 35,000 to 40,000 people, but because of retirements and individuals leaving the industry, trucking companies will need to recruit nearly 100,000 new drivers a year over the next decade to match U.S. freight needs. Legislation to allow states to lower the age for a commercial, interstate license has been incorporated into a larger transportation bill known as the Comprehensive Transportation and Consumer Protection Act of 2015. The bill would allow contiguous states to join together in “compacts” to drop the age threshold to 18 for interstate trips and would require the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to create a six-year pilot program allowing 18-year-olds to drive commercial vehicles, including buses, across state lines. After four years, the Transportation secretary is supposed to report to Congress on whether teens have “an equivalent level of safety” in comparison with older truckers.

The bill would restrict teen truckers from hauling hazardous materials or operating “special configurations,” which are generally defined as oversized or overweight loads.
One possible compromise is restricting how far into neighboring states a driver under age 21 could drive. For example, a teen driver could go from Kentucky 100 miles into West Virginia, but couldn’t drive to California. Lowering the commercial truck driving age to 18 was considered a decade ago, but ultimately was dropped because the public comments received by the government were overwhelmingly against the idea. Currently, labor unions have suggested that the driver shortage could be eliminated by raising truckers’ wages and improving working conditions. The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety group agrees that raising compensation and making it easier for drivers to spend time at home is preferable to seeking younger (and, presumably, cheaper) employees. If you are trying to put your life back together after a truck accident caused by a driver under age 21 or have more questions about this topic, trust your case to the Pikeville, KY-based Johnson Law Firm. We are ready to provide you with a free and confidential initial consultation. Contact us by calling 606-437-4488 or filling out our online form.

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