The trucking industry is facing a critical shortage of qualified drivers and is looking for solutions. As older truck drivers are retiring, the trucking industry is having increasing difficulty in finding replacements. The fear of a more serious driver shortage has prompted industry representatives along with some politicians to look at changing federal safety rules by lowering the legal age for interstate truck drivers is a solution.
But there are ongoing safety concerns about the higher crash rates of younger drivers. Previous efforts to change the rules also have failed. The trucking industry hopes to change that.
Existing laws for interstate truck drivers call for drivers to be at least 21. Most states allow older teens — those 18 or 19 — and 20-year olds to drive heavy trucks only inside state lines. But those looking to changes that have submitted a bill that would skip the pilot program requirements and change the safety rules to allow older teen drivers and 20-year olds to cross state lines in heavy trucks after undergoing extra training. The Drive-Safe Act also would limit them to trucks outfitted with certain safety gear, including speed limiters.
On the other side of the argument, safety advocates continue to say that lowering the legal age to drive big rigs on interstate trips is not worth the risk. Even if the proposed programs come with extra training, restrictions and mandatory safety technology on the trucks, driver age itself remains an ongoing hazard.
Some feel that even lowering the required age for interstate drivers may not attract as many drivers as may be needed. Driving diesel-powered 5-ton trucks is hard. Drivers must follow federal rules and safety regulations, and, increasingly, onboard technology can track their every move. In addition, long haul drivers often must be away from home for extended periods which is something younger drivers may not find appealing.
What to do about a driver shortage is still anybody’s guess and lowering the age limit may be only part of the solution.