If you’ve been on the road for long, you may remember that the driving age for interstate commercial transportation is 21 years old. According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, a potential driver can obtain their commercial driver’s license (CDL) at 18 today, but only to drive within a given state’s lines. To haul across the country or handle hazardous materials, 21 is the minimum age. But lawmakers are now considering a bill proposed that would allow 18-year-olds to legally drive 18 wheelers nationally. Truck driving is a lucrative opportunity for young people and the industry is vying for new drivers. While lawmakers argue that this bill would ease the driver shortage, truckers around the country raise concerns over safety on the road.
Why Do We Need to Change Driving Age Laws?
Senator Duncan D. Hunter, a Republican from California, proposed the bill in March of 2018. Younger drivers have always been on the lower end of age demographics in the trucking industry. According to this chart supplied by the American Transportation Research Institute, drivers aged 20 to 24 made up less than 10% of the force in 1994, 2003 and 2013. In 2013 specifically, that percentage fell below 5%.
It’s no secret that the commercial transportation industry is undergoing a driver shortage. For example, the American Trucking Association reported in October of 2017 that the national trucking shortage reached 50,000 drivers—and this number could rise to 174,000 by 2026. Companies have increased pay and benefits in an attempt to incentivize potential drivers. In fact, some economists argue that wages in the trucking industry are still far below the necessary threshold to attract workers. If companies continue to raise wages in order to attract or keep drivers, this is likely to greatly ease the shortage.
But what happens when these measures aren’t enough? Senator Hunter argues that lowering the interstate driving age would positively impact young people with high school degrees who want stable, well paying careers. After all, the average income for a truck driver is still around $60,000 per year. Because many truckers are now retiring, it’s crucial that enough new drivers are hired within the next 10 years.
The Bill and Safety Concerns
On top of this, young people age 18 to 20 have the highest unemployment rate of any age group. This makes sense: industry opportunities aside from the military or higher education are scarce. Truck driving is a stable career with opportunity for upward mobility and pay raises. Compared to the limited similar opportunities in the retail, food service or construction industries, commercial transportation and commercial truck driving is worth diving into young.
The trucking community largely argues that bestowing drivers so young with this much responsibility is risky. This concerned is founded: In 2016, the Center for Disease Control actually reports that teenagers aged 15-19 years old were responsible for 8.4% of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries relative to their 6.5% of the U.S. population. Similarly, commercial vehicle drivers between 19 and 20 years old are six times more likely to be involved in fatal accidents. Younger drivers simply have less driving experience overall, not just with semi truck driving. Not only is preventing dangerous accidents a priority for truck drivers, semi truck accidents could lead to costly damages to loaded goods. Many believe that the industry would benefit more from direct improvement strategies than throwing cheap labor at the problem.
The Upside of Younger Drivers Nationwide
On the other hand, proponents of the bill argue that the drivers under 21 would be required to jump through preventative safety hoops. This includes an apprenticeship program requiring 400 total hours on-duty with 240 of those hours under supervision of an experienced driver. It gets better: all training trucks will have cameras and a maximum set speed of 65mph. Senator Hunter also points out that there are already 18 and 19 year old drivers on the road anyway and that this change wouldn’t have a significant impact on road safety. But opportunities for work and advancement are more scarce within a single state’s lines as a driver, especially if your state is particularly small.
Providing extra incentive to young people considering a commercial driving career could promote relief from the driver shortage. Although there are safety concerns to consider, many believe that this law change would do more good than harm. A pilot program by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is set to launch at the end of this year, allowing 18 to 20 year-olds with a military commercial driving license to drive interstate in the U.S. As for other young drivers, the legislation is still out.