The bipartisan infrastructure package that passed the Senate would create a pilot program to allow drivers as young as 18 to obtain commercial driver's licenses and move goods across state lines. Current law prohibits commercial truck drivers under the age of 21 from crossing state lines. The pilot program would involve up to 3,000 participants and would be evaluated after three years.
The program would help address a shortage of truck drivers, pointed out Indiana Sen. Todd Young, who sponsored the legislation.
“The driver shortage has needed to be addressed for years, but it has now reached a crisis level as we witness major supply chain bottlenecks across all sectors,” the Republican told the Washington Examiner.
The requirement that young truckers remain within the confines of their state dramatically limits their opportunities in the industry, especially in smaller states. Proponents of the pilot program insist that opening up the rest of the country to these younger drivers could help address the supply chain problems that have contributed to shortages of goods across the country and led to steep increases in the prices of many retail items.
Still, the idea of having teenagers, by far the least cautious of drivers, responsible for driving tractor-trailers across the country has generated resistance.
“Younger drivers are going to crash more frequently. It’s not like this is rocket science — anybody that has ever tried to insure a teenage driver on an automobile knows what you deal with,” pushed back Todd Spencer, president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. “While not every teenager is the same, statistically, they’re going to be much more likely to have a crash.”
He warned that the increased safety risk of bringing younger truckers into the fold outweighs any benefits.
Still, advocates of the pilot program note that trucking has been made safer in recent years. Trucks now have GPS devices, and regulations limit how long truckers can drive.
“As long as the training is where it needs to be, I personally don’t see a downside to it. We need stuff to get moving around the country,” Dan Maxwell, a distinguished lecturer at the University of New Haven and a former law enforcement officer.
The American Trucking Associations has supported lowering the minimum driver age and insists there is a driver shortage. Chris Spear, the president and CEO of the ATA, said this week that the industry is now down a record high of about 80,000 drivers amid the supply chain crunch.
While several cogs in the supply chain are in disarray, lawmakers pushing for allowing younger people into the trucking industry see it as something that can only help improve the situation.