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Knight-Swift CEO rejects push to allow truck drivers under 21

‘Horrific idea’ would exacerbate current market downturn, Jackson tells TCA

(L-R) Jackson, Gerdin, Leathers, Penner at TCA on Monday. (Photo: John Gallagher/FreightWaves)

ORLANDO, Fla. — Allowing truck drivers 18-20 years old to drive interstate cargo — a plan strongly supported by the Biden administration and the American Trucking Associations and seen as a way to address a driver shortage — would be a drag on carrier economics and safety, according to Knight-Swift President and CEO David Jackson.

“The idea of bringing 18-year-old drivers in, I think is a horrific idea for a multitude of reasons,” Jackson told attendees at the Truckload Carriers Association here on Monday.

“But if you happen to believe that to oversupply the industry would be a great thing to do, and the impact that would be on the stability of pricing and the stability of wages for drivers … if you think that’s all a good thing, then I would say we’re grossly underestimating the unintended consequences to oversupply, and what that does to rates, and what that kind of a driver would do for safety.”

Speaking on a panel with fellow truckload company top executives Mike Gerdin of Heartland Express, Derek Leathers of Werner Enterprises and moderator Rob Penner of Bison Transport, Jackson said that rate volatility is “a bit of an enemy” in the current trucking market cycle.

“So we have to have discipline in terms of how we add equipment into this space and how we continue to elevate the standards of who drives in this space. And hopefully, someday, between us and our customers, we get to where we stay in [capacity supply and demand] equilibrium a little bit longer. The LTL guys have figured this out.”

The good news, Jackson said, is that following the worst recent years for trucking — 2013, 2017 and 2019 — were some of the best years for trucking. “So we’re on the verge” of another upswing, he said.

But in the meantime, Gerdin recommended that carriers use the downturn to concentrate on other areas of their business.

“Let’s trade trailers, let’s trade tractors, let’s work on our fuel mileage, let’s work on 150 different aspects of our business while we’re not that busy,” Gerdin said.

“All these great ideas we have to make our company better, we have to actually do it sometime, and this is the perfect time to do that with whatever objectives you have in your company. None of us know how long the downturn will last, but we know it will come back.”

Asked what he thought was the most important regulatory issue the industry should prioritize, Leathers said there should be a “laser focus” on emissions regulations, particularly with restrictions on tailpipe pollution that start in 2027.

“But if you zoom out further and think about climate in general, it worries me a great deal that we’re faced with a political environment where instead of setting lofty goals which we would fully support, and pushing us to do what we already do in our day to day business — try to do more with less, find a way to deliver more freight and leave a smaller footprint — what we see now is a lot of prescriptions for specific applications,” Leathers said.

“I’m OK with standards and goals by a certain year, but when you start telling us how we have to do it, it’s troubling. If you mandate how we get there, and the infrastructure and cost and other obstacles are unbearable by the end consumer, I think we’re setting ourselves up for a major failure, and that’s the road we’re on now. We have to stay active as an association and as individual companies and push back on this.”

Looking ahead, Leathers said that even if the current economy has yet to bottom out, a trucking market recovery will depend more on supply than on demand.

“I’m not celebrating the fact that supply is exiting. But this business has always been determined by a few key principles, one of which is, the cure to low prices is low prices. When the spot market goes down this low this fast, it cures itself. I think there are better times to come and there’s never been a better time for some discipline.”

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.

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The second annual F3: Future of Freight Festival will be held in Chattanooga, “The Scenic City,” this November. F3 combines innovation and entertainment — featuring live demos, industry experts discussing freight market trends for 2024, afternoon networking events, and Grammy Award-winning musicians performing in the evenings amidst the cool Appalachian fall weather.


  1. Kent Schmidt

    Go back to the way it was to ge a cdl and you will have plenty of drivers.
    I can not take a whole month with out pay and spend over 5000.00 to get cdl

  2. Robert Patrick Dial

    Swift sent me to school to get my CDL’s but when I got to school & didn’t have my CPL. They sent me home, after two weeks of training @ Trans Tech. I came home & got my permit like they asked but then they tell me they can’t send me back because I worked for a company that dosent use W2’s. I feel like I was done wrong & just lied to. I would love to talk to the CEO of Knight Swift to explain. I have a perfect driving record & no convictions. My drug test came back perfect/clean. Please help me Mr.David Jackson. My name is Robert P Dial & I’m an honest hard working, dependable, friendly…

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John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.