By John Kearney

​According to the American Transportation Research Institute, the share of younger truck drivers in recent years has not only been increasing, it’s been decreasing. It is urgent that we reverse that pattern and start attracting capable, career-minded young people to one of the most important industries in the country. To help make that happen, ATS has participated in founding the Next Generation in Trucking Association whose mission is to create high school programs across the country. ATS Vice President, Rebecca Hudson, sits on Next Gen’s originating Board with other industry leaders. The goal is to place the best training curriculum and most advanced simulation training technology in the hands of young driver trainees. ATS provided the simulators used in the first, and very successful high school program in Patterson, CA, which is quickly being replicated in other states.

Notice I said high schools because that’s where we need to be recruiting. Although in most states the age limit for a commercial driver’s license is 18, federal law currently prohibits drivers under 21 to drive in conjunction with interstate commerce—which means they can’t take a truckload across a state line.

This creates a major barrier to recruiting younger drivers. Two-thirds of Americans don’t have a college degree, which means they tend to launch their careers straight out of high school. By the time they turn 21, many of them—including the steadiest and most career-minded—are settled into what they’re doing and unlikely to enter a new field.

Which means we’ve lost them. One response to this problem is the DRIVE-Safe Act of 2018, which would lower the interstate commercial trucking age to 18 nationally. Meanwhile, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has announced a pilot program to allow drivers between 18 and 20 years old to operate commercial motor vehicles in interstate commerce.

FMCSA has requested comments from the public on the training, qualifications, driving limitations, and vehicle safety systems FMCSA should consider in developing the program. One item that needs to be legally required in training these drivers is virtual-reality simulation. Studies show a crash reduction rate of up to 35% for simulator-trained truck drivers; they also show that simulator training lowers overall training cost by accelerating students’ progress.

One objection that’s been raised is the supposed immaturity and undependability of people 18 to 20 years old. The people who say that, however, tend to overlook the fact that their own security and freedom rests on the shoulders of an awful lot of 18- to 20-year-olds: the U.S. military selects from exactly this age group. The military also turns down 80% of those who apply. They vet their applicants for attitude and aptitude and take the best. The trucking industry should do exactly the same thing.
In addition, these drivers should be tested for their judgement in decision making and the training should be far more extensive than that given to an 18-year-old seeking a driver’s license.

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