By John Kearney

As you probably know, federal law currently prohibits drivers under 21 from working as interstate truck drivers. Last fall, as an experiment, the Federal Motor Safety Administration (FMCSA) opened a new website to help a select number of 18- to 20-year-old veterans with the military equivalent of a commercial driver’s license find jobs as interstate drivers. After three years or so, the safety records of these drivers will be compared to the records of a control group to see if a one- to three-year difference in drivers’ ages is a critical safety factor.

The answer to that question, at least as far as I’m concerned, is no. I firmly believe that 18- to 20-year-olds—properly trained—are mature enough to be skilled and safe commercial truck drivers, and apparently I’m not alone in this opinion. There’s a page on FMCSA’s website where trucking companies can advertise job openings for drivers under this program; as of early February, nearly two dozen interstate trucking companies were doing so.

Meanwhile, we still have a terrible shortage of drivers. Given that nearly two-thirds of American high school graduates begin their working careers right then and never go to college, a logical source of future truck drivers would be high-school vocational education programs. And I think it is.

One great example is the Truck Driving Program at Patterson High School in Patterson, CA. Backed by the support of national and local trucking fleets and the school’s superintendent, and aided by government grants, they use the combination of a textbook and ATS driving simulators to lay the groundwork for enrollment in a standard commercial driver’s license training program. They’re in their third year; enrollment has almost tripled, and not just with guys: young women are starting to join as well.

Patterson High is the first high school in the country to adopt this technology. They’re pushing right now for all the high schools in their county to create this kind of program, and if that succeeds, they’ll move on to the state level. This is what the trucking industry needs; if we can get to them before they’ve maybe taken a different path, and train them properly, we’ll be well on our way to providing the new generation of drivers we so badly need.

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