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Should the Trucking Industry Lower Driver Age?

Posted on: June 28, 2021

In response to a shortage of drivers in the trucking industry, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has proposed a pilot program to allow commercial truck drivers under the age of 21 to operate in interstate commerce. The program was announced in September 2020 as the increase in online Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic commerce showed the need for qualified truck drivers to transport goods. It is supported by a bipartisan bill pending in Congress called the DRIVE-Safe Act. The FMCSA is seeking input and comments from both professional drivers and motor carriers as well as the public on the safety, feasibility, and possible economic benefits of allowing drivers aged 18 to 20 to operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) in interstate commerce. The pilot program would allow drivers to participate who fulfill one of two categories:

  • Drivers aged 18 to 20 who hold a commercial driver’s license (CDL) and operate a CMV in interstate commerce while participating in a 120-hour probationary period and then a 280-hour probationary period in an apprenticeship program with a participating employer.
  • Drivers aged 19 and 20 who hold a CDL and have been operating a CMV in intrastate commerce for at least one year and 25,000 miles.

None of the drivers participating in the pilot program would be allowed to operate vehicles hauling hazardous materials, passengers, or special configuration vehicles. Training vehicles would be required to have an automatic transmission, active braking collision mitigation system, forward-facing video equipment, and speed limited to 65 miles per hour. After apprenticeship, these safety enhancements would no longer be mandatory.

Already in 49 states plus the District of Columbia, 18- to 20-year-old drivers with CDLs are allowed to operate CMVs in intrastate commerce, meaning they can travel anywhere within the state.

The result is that in large states such as Texas, younger drivers can haul goods for long distances, whereas in other areas of the country, they may not cross a few miles to the neighboring state, such as from Maryland to Virginia or Vermont to New Hampshire.

What are Some of the Pros and Cons of Young Drivers?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), more than two million people drive large trucks. Seventy percent of all freight delivered in the United States is carried by commercial trucks. The American Trucking Association (ATA) says the industry is currently short 61,000 drivers and the workforce is aging. In a letter to Congress supporting the DRIVE-Safe Act, representatives from the trucking, manufacturing, agriculture, and restaurant industries among others stated that the supply chain could be interrupted by a driver shortage if demand for commercial truck transportation continues to increase. Additionally, the pandemic cut into the flow of new drivers because the process of getting a CDL slowed considerably. Trucking driving schools had to shut down for several months before they could resume training, and there were restrictions at state motor vehicle offices as well. They support the FMCSA pilot program to train a new group of drivers as well as the standardization of CDL training.

The FMCSA is creating a new standard of Entry Level Driver Truck Driver Training Certification (ELDT) that will take effect on February 7, 2022. The new ELDT program will include a registry of training providers that retains records of which CDL applicants have completed the new training and certification process. After February 7, 2022, entry level drivers will be allowed to take a CDL skills or knowledge test only after completing training from a provider on the registry. The new requirements will likely extend the training time for most new drivers and provide more comprehensive training than many existing programs.

Advocates for lowering the driving age to include 18- to 20-year-old applicants say they see a big opportunity to bring more women and minorities into the industry. Recruiting candidates early can make them into loyal company employees. Some programs aimed specifically at attracting younger drivers use digital textbooks and interactive technology during training.

Critics of the push to lower the driving age for interstate commercial truck drivers include safety advocates, union officials, and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA). They say the BLS data do not support the claim of a driver shortage and that large trucking companies are eager to use a new pool of teenage truck drivers as a tool to keep wages low. The OOIDA argues that statistically drivers of commercial motor vehicles under the age of 21 are consistently more likely to be involved in accidents.

More than 5,000 people die in truck accidents every year, and opponents believe the public is put at risk as they will be forced to participate in the proposed pilot training program. Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show that fatalities in large truck accidents increased from 2009 to 2019 by 48 percent. During the same period, personal injuries also increased by 115 percent. This is despite the amount of new safety technology commonly used on trucks. Rather than drawing on a younger population for new drivers, they propose that the trucking industry offer better pay, benefits, and working conditions. This would be a way to address the high driver turnover rate, which according to OOIDA is above 90 percent along large truckload carriers.

What are Common Causes of Truck Accidents?

Operating a massive semi-truck is drastically different from driving a passenger vehicle. It takes skill and experience, and one of the top reasons for truck accidents is inexperience. In the hands of an inexperienced driver, a truck is inherently dangerous and destructive because of its size and weight. A fully loaded truck is difficult to stop once it is traveling at maximum speed on the highway. Swerving or other emergency maneuvers are also not easy, as the reaction time of a heavy vehicle is slow even in the hands of a seasoned driver. A truck that is out of control will likely hit multiple vehicles, injuring many more people than a smaller vehicle would. High driver turnover rate contributes to more inexperienced drivers being on the roads. Experience is not just about hours spent with the vehicle, but has to do with familiarity with driving routes and locations. All of this contributes to safety.

For those is passenger vehicles involved in a truck accident, the statistics are grim. A large truck is involved in 74 percent of all fatal passenger vehicle cases, and when it comes to truck fatalities as a whole, 68 percent of victims are passenger vehicle occupants. Some projections put truck fatalities as the fifth largest cause of death in the United States by 2030.

Another top cause of truck accidents is fatigue or drowsy driving. The FMCSA strictly regulates a driver’s hours of service or how long a truck driver may operate the vehicle before they are required to rest. These hours must be logged and records kept by trucking companies; however, the pressure to deliver goods on time can sway drivers to stay on the road longer than they are allowed to by law. Snarled traffic, foul weather conditions, and complications with loading can cause unplanned delays that lead to fatigued truck drivers being out on the road rather than resting.

Monmouth County Truck Accident Lawyers at Ellis Law Advocate for Injured Victims of Truck Accidents

Injuries from a truck accident can be devastating and life altering, but you do not have to face your situation alone. Reach out to the Monmouth County truck accident lawyers at Ellis Law to find out how you can get compensation for your injuries caused by a negligent driver. We are committed to protecting your rights and will hold the negligent parties accountable for your injuries. Call us at 732-308-0200 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Freehold, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout East Brunswick, Toms River, Middletown, Jersey City, Neptune, Marlboro Township, Hudson County, Union County, Essex County, and Ocean County, as well as Brooklyn and New York, New York.

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