JUST SAY NO! Critics Urge Lawmakers To Reject Plan To Lower Interstate Driving Age
Little Rock, Arkansas – A newly renewed legislative plan to allow 18-year-olds the opportunity to obtain a commercial drivers license (CDL) and operate cross-country is facing increased scrutiny among critics, even while the effort currently enjoys impressive bi-partisan support in Congress.
Last month, the Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy Act (DRIVE-Safe Act), which would effectively allow 18-year-olds to obtain a CDL and fully participate in interstate commerce, was re-introduced into the U.S. House and Senate.
A qualified driver must complete at least 400 hours of on-duty time and 240 hours of driving time with an experienced driver/trainer in the cab. Additionally, all trucks used for training in the program must be equipped with NTSB-endorsed safety technology including active braking collision mitigation systems, forward-facing video event capture and a speed governor set at 65 miles per hour.
Though a growing coalition of legislators and transportation stakeholders is backing the plan, many truck drivers and trucking groups oppose the idea of putting 18-year-olds behind the wheel of a big rig on long hauls.
In a letter to lawmakers dated February 27, the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) wrote, “Younger drivers – especially teenagers – generally lack the maturity and experience to operate a commercial motor vehicle at the safest levels.”
“We will continue to oppose bills like the DRIVE-Safe Act that jeopardize driver and highway safety in an effort to provide corporate motor carriers the cheap labor they crave.” – Todd Spencer, president of OOIDA
Further, OOIDA contends, “Research consistently concludes that commercial motor vehicle drivers under the age of 21 are more likely to be involved in crashes. In some states, teenagers entering the apprentice program created by the legislation would have only recently received a full driver’s license to operate an automobile, let alone a commercial motor vehicle.”
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) was quick to agree that putting 18-year-olds behind-the-wheel of a big rig is unwise. In an interview with Trucks.com, Eric Teoh, IIHS senior statistician, said, “We already know that younger drivers in passenger vehicles are at higher risk, so we don’t think it makes sense to put them behind the wheels of 80,000-pound trucks.”
Supporters Are Taking Their Message To Consumers
Backers of the plan claim a national “driver shortage” is creating problems for not only the trucking industry, but also for consumers. They argue the labor shortage is driving up prices of goods.
They are now taking this message directly to their constituents to get them on-board. A recent example of this is Senator Todd Young (R-IN), one of the co-sponsors of the Drive-Safe Act in the U.S. Senate.
“This will also, of course, lead to reduced costs of the things we move. So it will benefit all consumers.” – Senator Todd Young (R-IN)
At a press event earlier this month, Young asserted that as career opportunities in trucking increase, costs to consumers will decrease. “This will also, of course, lead to reduced costs of the things we move. So it will benefit all consumers,” Young said.
Young also dismissed safety concerns by pointing to the Drive-Safe Act’s increased safety and training measures for these new drivers. “The 18-20-year-old would have to not only obtain the CDL but maintain a standard of competency and safety over and above current CDL standards,” Young exclaimed.
He said he was “hopeful” the Drive-Safe Act would be passed into law “fairly soon” since this is not an election year. Further, he said he looked forward to helping alleviate the negative effects of the “driver shortage.”
Critics Aren’t Buying The “Driver Shortage” Narrative
OOIDA and IIHS are not buying it and they are not alone in their opposition. Other trucking groups, like the 11,000-member National Association of Small Trucking Companies (NASTC) and the 15,000-member Small Business in Transportation Coalition (SBTC), also reject the plan.
These groups contend the “driver shortage” is a mischaracterization of what is actually happening in the labor market. They say working conditions for professional truckers have become so intolerable that many current CDL holders who could be behind-the-wheel have chosen to exit the industry or sit on the sidelines.
“The driver pay model is wrong and they are not being paid what they are worth. It’s time for a paradigm shift in how drivers are paid.” – James Lamb, president of SBTC
OOIDA, NASTC, SBTC, and other groups have long argued that if truck drivers were treated with more respect and paid a wage commensurate with their contributions, then trucking companies would have little problem attracting and retaining drivers.
“The driver pay model is wrong and they are not being paid what they are worth,” James Lamb, president of SBTC, recently told Transportation Nation Network (TNN). “It’s time for a paradigm shift in how drivers are paid.”
Lamb contended that until drivers are treated properly, “people are not going to recruit their friends” into the industry like they once did.
Todd Spencer, president of OOIDA, believes the DRIVE-Safe Act will only serve to exacerbate this problem. He characterized the legislation as an effort on the part of larger carriers to continue the flow of drivers who are willing to work for less wages amid deteriorating working conditions.
“We will continue to oppose bills like the DRIVE-Safe Act that jeopardize driver and highway safety in an effort to provide corporate motor carriers the cheap labor they crave,” he said.
Feedback Is Split
TNN has received a significant amount of both driver and executive feedback on this issue. Drivers have sounded off on our social media pages and through other channels, while we have also discussed the issue with quite a number of executives.
Judging from the feedback we have received thus far, though unscientific, it is clear the majority of drivers speaking out are opposed to the idea.
However, most of the executives we have spoken with see giving more opportunity to 18 to 20-year-olds to participate in interstate commerce as a positive for the industry.
Tell us what you think. We want to hear from you!