Lowering Truck Driver Age Limits Could Prove Dangerous

by Terry Bryant

The years-long debate on easing America’s trucker shortage by allowing interstate 18-wheeler drivers under 21 has accelerated after a pair of Capitol Hill lawmakers introduced a bill in Congress. Known as the DRIVE Act, and sponsored by Congressmen Duncan D. Hunter (R-Calif.) and Trey Hollingsworth (R-Ind.), trucking Industry leaders applaud the bill. Most also enthusiastically embrace its provisions for extra supervision of new drivers and a speed limit cap of 65 mph for these young trainees.

The trucking industry as a whole hails it as a real solution to filling so many driving vacancies and suspects that starting salaries of around $60,000 will appeal to 18-year-old newly graduated high school students.

Right now, all “lower 48” states allow 18-year-olds to drive fully-loaded 80,000-pound big rigs within their borders. But there’s no provision for 18-year-olds to drive interstate (cross state borders). This is why many trucking industry officials feel the lower age requirements are the solution to the growing problem of unfilled trucker jobs.

Recently, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) called the controversial “truck driver shortage” a myth and disputes this rush to lower the age limit for interstate CDL operation.

Research shows that in 2012, drivers between the ages of 16 and 19 are responsible for causing 60% of car accident fatalities. Male teen drivers represent an even higher risk, with the auto accident-related death rate twice as high for boys as girls, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Due to these high numbers, many fear that lowering the interstate truck driving age will produce more accidents due to inexperienced drivers’ inability to negotiate certain road or traffic conditions appropriately. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) certainly believes so and has publicly asserted that the safety of all motorists who share the road will remain at risk due to the younger, newer drivers’ lack of experience.

Why Are Inexperienced Teens Higher Risks as 18-Wheeler Truck Drivers?

If the past is the key to the future, opponents of the DRIVE Act have plenty of ammunition to support their negative views on under-21 interstate drivers.

Multiple research projects over the years reveal what many of us already know: teens are more likely to engage in risky behavior. Their age makes many feel invincible and, accordingly, not as cautious as  one who drives an 80,000-pound vehicle should be.

Teens also are:

This isn’t the first attempt Congress has made to lower the interstate truck driving age limit. Several similar bills have been proposed in Congress before. But all died for various reasons over the past two decades.

Now, however, we may be closer than ever to lowering the federal commercial driving age to 18.  The lines are clearly drawn between DRIVE’s support by the trucking industry and opposition from safety advocacy groups; and after observing the feelings on the matter from both sides, there’s little room in the middle. Most Americans either support it wholeheartedly or oppose it entirely.

Truck accidents are among the most dangerous on the road, with consequences that can last a lifetime. If you or a family member has been the victim of a big truck accident, we at Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law are here to help you any time, 24/7. Contact us online or by phone to arrange a free consultation.