Faced with a shortage of drivers, the trucking industry is supporting a plan to change federal regulations to allow Americans as young as 18 to drive big trucks across state lines.
The American Trucking Associations says the industry needs 35,000 to 40,000 drivers today, a number that is expected to grow to 100,000 annually over the next decade to keep up with demand for freight shipping in the U.S. Truckers are leaving the profession as they retire, and others leave because of a tough life on the road and difficulty making ends meet in the highly regulated industry.
Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) has introduced legislation in congress that would lower the driver’s age requirement for interstate trucking from 21 to 18 in an effort to increase the pool of potential drivers. It would create a pilot program where contiguous states could enter compacts permitting holders of Class A commercial driver licenses under the age of 21 to drive trucks across the compact’s state lines.
As written, current federal regulations put a severe squeeze on truck drivers under the age of 21. Not only are they not allowed to drive loads between states, but they can’t move freight within the state if the cargo’s origin was outside the state or if it will ultimately leave the state.
In a statement of support for the bill, ATA President and CEO Bill Graves said, “In each of the continental United States, a person can get a commercial driver’s license and drive a truck at the age of 18, but federal law prevents them from driving across state lines until they reach the age of 21. It is illogical that a 20-year-old can drive the 500 miles from San Francisco to San Diego, but not the eight miles from Memphis, Tennessee to West Memphis, Arkansas – or simply cross the street in Texarkana. Even more illogical is that a 20-year-old may not drive a truck in any state if the cargo in it originated outside the state or will eventually leave the state by some other means.”
The proposed regulation change is opposed by some who feel younger truck drivers would be unsafe on the roads. According to U.S. Department of Transportation stats from 2013, drivers ages 18-20 had a per-100,000-driver crash rate that was 66 percent higher than drivers 21 years of age or older.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety president Jackie Gillian said young drivers behind the wheel of big trucks is a “catastrophe waiting to happen.”
“The combination of inexperience, high-risk driving and large trucks can cause unbelievable devastation,” Gillian said.
Fischer’s bill now moves on to the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration.