It is no secret that the trucking industry is facing a driver shortage. By 2017, there could be more than 250,000 unfilled trucker jobs.
In response, Congress is proposing a bill that would allow drivers 18 years old to get behind the wheel of commercial trucks traveling across state lines. This could very well be another step in solving the driver shortage across the nation, but the public remains hesitant.
Currently, federal regulations require drivers to be at least 21 before they can drive big rigs across state lines. This new bill proposed by Republican senators would lower that age by three years, but it would still hail restrictions—two being that teens could not haul hazardous materials or oversized loads.
For an 18-year-old driver to obtain this proposed license to truck across interstates, they must first pass a written knowledge test, followed by a skill test administered by a state motor vehicle department.
There are 48 states that already allow younger commercial drivers to drive within state boundaries, but this new bill still raises mixed reactions. One main concern is that 18-year-old drivers don’t have much driving experience—but how much experience is too little?
To date, ten states allow drivers 14 years of age to obtain a learner’s permit, and 31 states allow 15 year olds to drive with a permit. After driving with a permit, a restricted license can be earned and finally a full license—all together averaging around three years of driving experience from permit to unrestricted license.
Other factors to consider when evaluating experience include driver limitations that teens ages 14 through 18 face. Many states have restrictions regarding when teens can drive (many teens cannot drive between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.) and how many passengers they can have in their car.
Jackie Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said that allowing 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, is a “Catastrophe waiting to happen.” Adding that, “We should be considering how to limit teen truck drivers rather than expanding them into such a dangerous program.”
In contrast, Dave Osiecki, chief of advocacy for American Trucking Associations, supports lowering the driving age in trucking. “It would be good for our industry, it would be good for commerce, it would be good for the economy,” he said.
So what do statistics say? In 2013, drivers between the ages of 18 and 20 had a fatal crash involvement rate that was 66 percent higher than drivers 21 and older. On the other hand, The driver turnover rate at large truckload companies has been stuck at 90 percent or higher since 2012.
This bill was first proposed a decade ago by the Bush administration but is only now working it’s way through the Senate. Are teen drivers a possible solution to the trucking industry’s driver shortage, or is this a disaster waiting to unfold?