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Coalition pushes for young driver training to expand workforce

Credit: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

Legislation removing age limit barriers for a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to attract younger drivers to trucking has been reintroduced in the U.S. Congress.

Last year’s Drive Safe Act, which stalled in Congress due in part to strong opposition from safety groups and independent owner-operators, had little bipartisan support in either the House or Senate. This year’s versions, announced February 26, are out of the gate with co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle.

“The strong bipartisan, bicameral support behind this legislation demonstrates how real a threat the driver shortage presents to our nation’s economic security over the long-term – and how serious our lawmakers are about addressing it with common-sense solutions,” said American Trucking Associations (ATA) president Chris Spear.

“Given the broad coalition of interests backing this measure, there is growing understanding across the country that the impact of this issue reaches far beyond just trucking and commercial vehicles. It is a strain on the entire supply chain, from the manufacturers and producers on down to retail and the end consumer, who will see higher prices at the store.”

ATA and the International Foodservice Distributors of America lead an effort, which includes the National Association of Manufacturers, National Restaurant Association, National Retail Federation and the Retail Industry Leaders of America, to remove CDL age restrictions.

ATA points out that while 48 states allow individuals to obtain a commercial driver’s license at age 18, federal regulations prevent them from crossing state lines until they turn 21.

Under the legislation, a driver under 21 meeting the CDL requirements could begin a two-step program of additional apprentice training. They would also be required to complete at least 400 hours of on-duty time and 240 hours of driving time alongside an experienced driver over 21.

Safety groups oppose the bills, contending that younger drivers lack experience and are more likely to be involved in fatal crashes.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which represents truck owners with fewer trucks, also sees the move as a way for larger carriers to secure cheaper labor, and thus a competitive advantage.

“There is not a shortage of truck drivers, but actually very high turnover, which should be addressed with improved compensation and benefits,” the group told FreightWaves in a statement.

“We have been hearing about a supposed shortage for decades and yet know of no disruptions that have ever taken place due to a perceived shortage. This latest effort is just another way to keep driver churn going and keep wages as low as possible.”

But sentiment for lowering the driver age may be growing, at both the state and national levels. Earlier this month Colorado insured that it would be able to quickly take advantage of a lowered age limit by passing a law authorizing those between 18 and 21 with a CDL to be licensed to drive a truck in interstate commerce, if the change was to take place at the federal level.

In December, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) chief Ray Martinez emphasized support for a three-year pilot program initiated by the agency in July aimed at transitioning military members between 18 and 21 into truck driving careers in interstate commerce.

“I think that’s a perfect group to look at, the under 21 [former] military [personnel], because they’ve already had training, they’ve been in a regimented environment where safety is prioritized,” Martinez told FreightWaves. “You can find a great career in this business, a career that’s not going away. This country depends on trucking, so if they can get in at 18 or 19 and prove they’re a safe driver, why would we not want that?”

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.