Talks of the trucking labor shortage are commonplace in the industry - perhaps frustratingly so, according to some. But there’s a good reason for it. Regardless of what you may think of the driver shortage and the many factors and causes behind it - the fact remains that it’s a pressing issue.
Trucking fleets need to take a strategic approach to combat the driver shortage and recruit and retain more efficiently. One such solution would be to lower the driving age and allow a previously untapped segment of the population to get behind the wheel and fill trucks.
This idea has been reintroduced in Senate as the DRIVE-Safe Act. Let’s find out a bit more about it and look into some arguments in support of, and opposing this controversial bill.
The DRIVE-Safe Act proposes a two step apprenticeship process for drivers that have received their CDL. Formally, the Act is named ‘Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy’ Act.
The latest summary of the DRIVE-Safe act introduced in Senate 03/10/2021:
“This bill directs the Department of Transportation to promulgate regulations to implement an apprenticeship program for licensed commercial motor vehicle drivers under the age of 21.
Under the program, an apprentice must complete two probationary periods that total 400 hours of on-duty time, of which at least 240 hours must be driving time in a commercial motor vehicle. Additionally, the apprentice must be accompanied in the cab of the commercial motor vehicle by an experienced driver.
Further, the bill requires all commercial motor vehicles used in the program for training to be equipped with safety technology such as active braking collision mitigation systems and video event capturing systems.
An employer shall not knowingly allow, require, permit, or authorize a driver under the age of 21 to operate a commercial motor vehicle unless the driver is participating in, or has completed, an apprenticeship program that meets the requirements set forth in this bill.”
One of the largest proponents of the DRIVE-Safe Act is the International Foodservice Distributors Association (IFDA). You can read their full text in support of this act here , or read on for the abridged version below.
The IFDA argues that the truck driver shortage is a serious threat to the economy. They believe that, without federal support from Congress, trucking companies will be unable to hire the 1.1 million truck drivers needed in the next decade.
They see the trucking career as a viable alternative to the usual routes for high school graduates. According to recent research, the average wage for foodservice distribution is $67,000 compared to a graduate’s average starting salary of $38,000 and the $51,000 salary of a college graduate. This starting salary, they claim, can be enjoyed all without incurring the average sum of $33,000 in college loan debt.
On the very same IFDA page linked previously, you can see the list of DRIVE-Safe Act Media coverage that actively argues in favor of the Act.
Republican senator of Indiana, Todd Young has expressed support for the DRIVE-Safe act, and had this to say:
“Today, 18-year-olds can drive more than 200 miles from New Albany to Gary and back, but they aren’t allowed to drive two miles from New Albany to Louisville. The DRIVE-Safe Act will eliminate this ridiculous regulation and in doing so address the driver shortage while providing new career opportunities for young Hoosiers.”
He points out that the existing legislation is flawed and is unnecessarily restrictive in certain circumstances. Local jobs placed on the borders of two states, for instance, could actively benefit from allowing younger drivers to cross state lines for smaller trips.
The DRIVE-Safe act has bipartisan support, meaning it is supported by both Democratic and Republican representatives. One of its Democrat representative supporters is Senator of Montana, Jon Tester. Here’s what he said when asked about his support for the Act:
”Now more than ever, young Montanans need more opportunities to get comprehensive job training, access higher paying work, and grow their careers early on. This bipartisan bill will do just that, allowing younger truck drivers to get top-of-the-line apprenticeships that kick their careers into gear, all while providing a big boost to the thousands of communities across the Big Sky who rely almost exclusively on trucks to move goods in and out of the state.”
Senator Tester’s argument in favor of the Act focuses on providing important career opportunities to young people at a crucial time in their development. Young people that may have considered becoming truck drivers are less likely to become truck drivers as they get older and instead choose career paths less favorable to the state’s economy.
Visit this page to read the arguments of senators from Arkansas, Oklahoma, Maine, West Virginia, Kansas, and Arizona in favor of the DRIVE-Safe act.
Safety technology sounds good, but it’s only required during the short probationary period. Thereafter, teen truck drivers will be able to drive any type of truck. This is one of the first arguments against the DRIVE-Safe Act outlined in this document calling for the opposition of the Act. The document begins with an introduction of the many parties that are against the bill, which include the following entities:
Their call to action against the Act includes the arguments that young drivers are not as safe as experienced and older drivers. They cite that CMV drivers under 19 are four times more likely to be involved in fatal crashes compared to drivers over the age of 21. They claim that younger drivers are more likely to take risks when driving and lack the driving experience necessary to make smart and safe decisions on the road. The opposition to the Act also argues that the brains of young drivers are not fully developed, and may lack the capacity for responsible decision making.
The document goes on to claim that 73% of the public are opposed to the Act, according to a 2015 public opinion poll. They also cite a decision by the FMCSA to reject the petition of lowering the age of obtaining a CDL from 21 to 18 in 2001. The most important and relevant argument against the bill is the idea that the DRIVE-Safe Act will do nothing to solve the driver shortage. Their main reason for this opinion is that the Act does nothing to address the unsustainable and inadequate working conditions present in the industry. They state that allowing teenagers behind the wheel of 80,000 lb trucks will only exacerbate the problems concerning work conditions in trucking.
They believe that there are more pressing issues affecting the driver shortage and that more attention needs to be given to questions concerning fatigue and driver safety.
There are several ways to look at the DRIVE-Safe Act and many valid arguments in favor of and against the bill. In our opinion, the Act might bring in some much needed workers into the industry and create lifelong career truckers to alleviate the driver shortage problems of the future. On the other hand, the questions surrounding safety on the roads are concerning, and much more discussion is needed to finalize the standards of training and determine when a young driver is ready to leave the nest and go solo. We also believe that letting younger drivers into the profession would only be a drop in the bucket - a very small and imperfect step in unbreaking the trucking industry and improving the perception of this essential career.
What do you think? Are you pro or against lowering the driving age from 21 to 18 and do you believe the DRIVE-Safe Act adequately solves the problem of preparing young drivers for a safe and fruitful career on the road? Leave your comment on our Facebook post.
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