Push To Lower Cross-Country Driving Age To 18 Is Back On

Washington, D.C. – Legislation has been re-introduced into the U.S. House and Senate that would effectively allow 18-year-olds to obtain a commercial drivers license and operate cross-country.

The Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy Act (DRIVE Safe Act) would eliminate the federal age restriction on interstate transportation. Under the legislation, a driver as young as 18 years of age could operate a big rig in interstate commerce.

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.

 

Rep. Trey Hollingsworth (R-IN) is one of the bill’s co-sponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives. He said this legislation is an effort to bring relief to a shortfall of drivers the trucking industry is currently experiencing, according to the American Trucking Associations (ATA). “The current driver shortage puts our dynamic economy at risk and closes off high-paying trucking careers to young Americans,” said Rep. Hollingsworth.

ATA estimates the industry is currently short 50,000 drivers and expects that number to rise to 150,000 in about 5 years. The characterization known as “driver shortage” has commonly been challenged by groups such as the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) which is opposed to lowering the interstate driving age limit.


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OOIDA and 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), contend the “driver shortage” is a mischaracterization of what is actually happening. These groups argue 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 the Small Business in Transportation Coalition

James Lamb, president of the SBTC, recently told Transportation Nation Network (TNN) in an exclusive interview the root of the problem is drivers are not compensated adequately for the services they provide. “The driver pay model is wrong and they are not being paid what they are worth,” Lamb said. “It’s time for a paradigm shift in how drivers are paid.”

Lamb said he believes the model of paying truckers by the mile and regulating them by the hour is a flawed one. “Pay them a salary and then give them a bonus structure,” he said.

He contended that until drivers are treated properly, “people are not going to recruit their friends” into the industry like they once did. Critics also question if measures like the DRIVE Safe Act will provide a net positive or neutral effect on industry safety results which advocates of the legislation claim.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) was quick to argue 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.”

“Given the broad coalition of interests backing this measure, there is growing understanding across the country that the impact of this issue reaches far beyond just trucking and commercial vehicles.” Chris Spear, president of the American Trucking Associations

Even still, a growing number of powerful groups are aligning behind the DRIVE Safe Act. In fact, more than 50 industry trade groups support the legislation, including the International Foodservice Distributors Association, the American Trucking Associations, National Restaurant Association, National Retail Federation, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the American Beverage Association.

 

Upon the announcement of the legislation being re-introduced, ATA president Chris Spear thanked the sponsors of the bills and said it was time for Congress to take meaningful action to address this issue. “The strong bipartisan, bicameral support behind this legislation demonstrates how real a threat the driver shortage presents to our nation’s economic security over the long-term – and how serious our lawmakers are about addressing it with common-sense solutions,” he said in a release.

“Given the broad coalition of interests backing this measure, there is growing understanding across the country that the impact of this issue reaches far beyond just trucking and commercial vehicles,” Spear commented.


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Further, ATA pointed out the safety standards and training called for in the DRIVE Safe Act would be required on top of all the pre-CDL training benchmarks that new drivers will be required to satisfy when the Entry Level Driver Training Rule goes in to effect in February 2020.

Similar legislation was introduced by U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) in the last congressional session but did not advance to a vote. ATA and its allies intend on making sure that does not repeat itself in this Congress.

Transportation Nation Network will continue to monitor the developments.

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