“Regulatory flexibilities, especially during emergencies, are vital to supply chain continuity,” wrote a coalition of trucking industry groups in a recent letter to President Joe Biden.
This statement comes as part of an overarching request to ease federal truck driver testing requirements in an effort to find a solution for the current ongoing truck driver shortage in the United States. This particular request calls for methods of allowing teenage drivers to begin entering the industry as interstate truck drivers.
In fact, new legislature implemented by Biden will allow drivers between the ages of 18 and 21 to operate commercial motor vehicles across state lines as part of a three-year pilot program. This program–which became part of the new infrastructure bill as a way to help the trucking industry meet demands at a time where the driver shortage has reached 80,000 truckers–has received strong opposition from industry safety advocates. The most prevalent argument against the new rule? Teenage drivers are involved in car accidents and crashes at a rate of four times more than their older counterparts.
“Allowing teens to drive big rigs across state borders in the face of research showing that this age group has significantly higher fatal crash rates is reckless and dangerous,” said co-chair of Parents Against Tired Truckers, Russ Swift. “An empty store shelf is not as tragic as an empty chair at Christmas dinner because your loved one needlessly died in a crash caused by a teen trucker.”
Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety president Cathy Chase agreed, noting that allowing such young drivers to operate CMVs would allow for “inexperienced, risk-prone teenagers” to bring higher safety risks to everyone on the road.
In addition, more flexible hours-of-service regulations have been extended during the pandemic and the shortage, continuing from a Trump-era exemption allowing drivers to extend their on-duty periods to 14 hours and to be able to split their rest breaks how they’d like. Initially, truckers were limited by the Department of Transportation to driving only 11 hours a day with at least one mandatory half-hour break in the first eight hours of their on-duty period. This flexibility arguably worsens the ongoing issue of truck driver fatigue, which reduces overall safety on America’s roadways.
“Long workdays, excessive driving hours, and unreasonable delivery demands jeopardize the safety of truck drivers and motorists,” said president of the Truck Safety Coalition, Dawn King.
Still, the trucking industry stays convinced that the most practical way to ease the shortage, boost the economy, and meet rising e-commerce demands is to lower the minimum age of transporting this cargo.
“Older drivers are leaving and retiring, and we’re not bringing in younger drivers to replace them fast enough,” said John Stomps, CEO of Total Transportation of Mississippi, noting that he believes this is the only way to help the current strain on the country’s supply chain.
Executive vice president for advocacy at American Trucking Associations, Bill Sullivan, has tried reassuring these safety advocates that trucking companies will prioritize safety when they onboard such young interstate truckers.
“The last thing any of our members want to do is do this unsafely,” he said. “We want to produce a driver who is at least as safe as a21-year-old.
The coalition of trucking industry organizations that wrote to Biden about pushing forward regulation relaxations are also working to ensure truck drivers are not mandated to become vaccinated against COVID-19, claiming that truck drivers spend the majority of their work days alone. Because of this, they believe a mandate would be unnecessary and may cause more truckers to leave the industry itself.
“We’re not anti-vaccine, but in our survey of 120,000 truckers, 50% were vaccinated and 50% weren’t vaccinated,” said Sullivan. “37% of all drivers said they would go to a company that doesn’t have a vaccine mandate or leave the industry altogether.”
These added flexibilities may help ease the long-term truck driver shortage and help the industry meet the current demands of the country, but it’s clear that keeping shipments efficient is more important to many industry members than the safety of truckers or other drivers with whom they share the road.
Legislation lowering the minimum age for operating commercial motor vehicles across state lines is highly likely to come to fruition, industry experts believe.