There’s a way to ease America’s trucker shortage, according to a pair of Capitol Hill lawmakers: allow teenaged drivers who are already commercially certified in their home states to cross state lines in their 18-wheelers. The bill – known as the DRIVE Act and sponsored by Congressmen Duncan D. Hunter (R-Calif.) and Trey Hollingsworth (R-Ind.) – would lower the age at which drivers can transport goods outside the state in which they’re licensed, from 21 to 18.
Industry leaders applaud the bill, especially the mandates of extra supervision and a speed cap of 65 mph for these young trainees. They also believe it’s the perfect solution to the spike in aging-out baby boomer driver-retirees, as filling those vacancies is becoming increasingly difficult.
But safety groups aren’t necessarily convinced. They point to the belief that long-haul trips are riskier for less experienced drivers. Henry Jasny, vice president and general counsel for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety – a group that works to reduce highway accidents – says teenagers need more experience to safely drive their fully-loaded 80,000-pound vehicles.
“Younger drivers have higher crash rates,” Jasny says. “We’re concerned.” The measure, introduced in February, 2018, would require teenagers to first log 400 hours of on-duty driving and 240 hours of working with an experienced driver in the passenger seat before being qualified to apply for a license to cross state lines. Their vehicles would have to be outfitted with automatic brakes, video cameras and a governor which prohibits them to exceed 65 mph.
As the bill works its way through committee, opponents of the measure certainly have effective ammunition to question it. Limited available data on the safety records of 18- to 21-year-old truck drivers suggests that, overall, drivers age 16 to 19 are nearly three times more likely than people 20 and older to be involved in a fatal crash. That seven percent of the population is also responsible for 11 percent of all motor-vehicle-injury costs, according to the CDC.
Proponents of the bill argue that in addition to offering faster incorporation of tech-related training and safety devices and expanding the talent pool, it could help employers keep costs down and yet offer applicants with a new high school diploma a chance to earn a $60,000 salary shortly after graduation.
Commercial driving – which includes OTR truckers – is the country’s deadliest occupation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Proponents of the bill believe that providing more mentorship and smart equipment at an earlier age could reduce the number of future accidents.
The average age for a truck driver in the United States is 55, so attrition continues to erode the industry. In spite of employers’ raising wages, offering 401(k) benefits and aggressively recruiting women, a recent report by the American Trucking Association reveals the industry still needs to add around a million new drivers in the next five years
Donald Lefeve, executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Training Association, a national trade group, believes that the logical next step for commercial trucking is tapping the under-21 talent pool for cross-country drivers. “Since every state in the Continental U.S. allows someone who holds an intrastate [license] to drive within their borders, they should be able to cross state lines.”
“If you’re old enough to join the Marine Corps,” adds the bill’s co-author, Rep. Hunter, “you can get the training to do this. I think we should expect more out of our younger generation, not less.”
If you have any questions about trucker liability in a vehicle accident, you’re welcome to contact the Billy Johnson Injury Law Firm any time.