Driving big rigs is one of the most dangerous, grueling occupations in America, but trucking groups are backing legislation that would allow drivers younger than 21 years old to cross state borders.
Safety groups argue younger drivers are more likely to be involved in fatal accidents and that the bill’s training requirements are inadequate.
Most states allow 18-year-olds to obtain a commercial driver’s license, but federal law prevents them from driving across state lines until they are 21.
But the Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy Act introduced in March by Republican Reps. Duncan Hunter of California and Trey Hollingsworth of Indiana would allow teens to drive between states after completing a 400-hour training program.
“Unfortunately, we see many young Americans faced with the choice of either taking on thousands of dollars in college debt or entering into a job market with grim prospects for untrained workers,’’ Hunter told the Washington Examiner.
“This is a common-sense approach that creates job opportunities for younger workers and provides a vital resource to America’s trucking industry that is critical in supporting our growing domestic economy,’’ he said.
Proposed legislation would create training requirements for teen drivers
The legislation calls for teen truck drivers to complete a 120-hour probationary period of “on-duty time,’’ in which 80 of those hours must be spent driving. Then, they must finish a second 280-hour probationary period during which the teen must drive for 160 hours with an experienced trucker.
UPS, the International Foodservice Distributors, and the American Trucking Association support the bill, also known as the DRIVE Safe Act. Last year, the trucking associations predicted that the industry would lack about 50,000 drivers by the end of 2018, and 174,000 drivers by 2026 if current retirement and demand trends continue.
The proposal has baffled safety advocates and legislators who think it is a bad idea to put the most crash-prone segment of the population in the drivers’ seats of big rigs on the nation’s interstates.
“This bill puts 18-year-olds behind the wheels of 80,000-pound trucks speeding at 75 miles an hour driving across state lines,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said. “It needs to be corrected.”
Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) echoed Markey’s remarks.
“The bill continues to be a safety disaster,’’ he said. “It’s a catastrophe for safety progress.”
Nearly all states allow younger drivers to get commercial licenses, but they are banned from interstate commerce.
According to a breakdown of the full bill by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, which opposes numerous provisions in the bill, the teen trucker section represents a “cynical attempt to increase the availability of commercial drivers by allowing inexperienced teens to drive trucks.”
Similarly, researchers who have looked extensively at teen drivers think increasing their use for heavy hauling spells danger.
“There’s a lot of evidence that this is a bad idea from a safety perspective, and I really don’t know of any evidence that it’s a good idea,” said Anne McCartt, the senior vice president for research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
She and a spokeswoman for the National Safety Council pointed to numerous studies from the United States and around the world showing that accident rates — from fender benders to fatal wrecks — were much higher for truck drivers under the age of 21, regardless of training. One study from Michigan found the crash rate to be higher by a factor of six.
If you have been injured due to a truck, car or motorcycle accident, contact attorney Coby L. Wooten in Fort Worth, Texas.