The truck driver population is aging. The average truck driver is 52, which is ten years older than the average American worker.
A crucial step in addressing the shortage of qualified truck drivers is to recruit more young people into the industry. But there’s a hurdle: a federal regulation that bans 18- to 21-year-olds from driving Class 8 trucks across state lines.
So what can legislators do?
Calls For Change
Under current law, drivers can obtain a CDL at age 18. But they’re forbidden from moving goods across state lines until they’re 21.
This restriction is particularly problematic in regions like the greater D.C. metro area. Current laws prohibit an 18-year-old CDL driver from making a quick trip between Arlington, VA and Bethesda, MD (about 40 minutes). But the same driver could haul a load from Arlington to Norforlk, VA, which is more than a six-hour roundtrip.
On March 21, 2018, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee introduced a bill that could change that. The Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy (DRIVE-Safe) Act would lower the interstate commercial motor vehicle driving age to 18.
“This is a common-sense proposal that will open enormous opportunities for the 18-21 year-old population, giving them access to a high-paying profession free of the debt burden that comes with a four-year degree,” says American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear.
But not everyone is happy about the proposed change to federal law.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) sent a letter to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee expressing its opposition to the DRIVE-Safe Act.
“We think it’s irresponsible to put young drivers behind the wheel of a truck in order to avoid addressing the real problems of high turnover,” said Todd Spencer, acting president of OOIDA. “The focus should instead be on fixing the staggering turnover rate with better pay and working conditions.”
The letter points out that commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers under the age of 19 are four times more likely to be involved in fatal crashes. And CMV drivers who are 19-20 years of age are six times more likely to be involved in fatal crashes.
Several industry groups signed the letter. They include Road Safe America, the Truck Safety Coalition, the American Public Health Association, and the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.
More Work To Do
But even if the DRIVE-Safe Act becomes law, it remains to be seen how many young people will choose a career in the trucking industry.
According to Dave MacMillan, a retired truck driver whose career spanned 40 years, the industry isn’t one he’d necessarily recommend to young people. “When I got into it, you could make a living to be in the upper middle class. Gradually that’s dwindled away…it’s become a subsistence living. It’s an incredibly hard life for not very much money.”
The DRIVE Act is currently awaiting a vote in the Senate. Meanwhile, trucking companies will have to continue to tackle the driver shortage by trying to attract more young workers to the industry.
“Helping our clients get jobs done since 1998.”