Federal pilot program would open long-distance trucking to 18-year-olds, from the Washington Post, December 31. 2020. A federal agency is proposing a pilot program to allow people as young as 18 to drive trucks across the country, an idea enthusiastically supported by trucking companies as a way to open the door to recruitment in high schools but facing deep opposition from safety organizations that say it will lead to immature drivers causing more crashes.
The idea of lowering the age limit for interstate truckers has been around for at least two decades. It has gained traction in recent years, with a bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress proposing legislation in addition to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration pilot program.
Bill Sullivan, executive vice president for advocacy at the American Trucking Associations, said companies see an opportunity to open a new path for workers without a college degree and to reduce instability in their workforce.
“The reason that we want to reach people at the beginning of their work life is so we can present a career in trucking that can support their life and career over a longer period of time,” Sullivan said.
Safety advocate opposition
But major safety organizations have rallied in opposition to the plan, arguing that data shows drivers younger than 21 are far more dangerous on the roads. However, when properly vetted and trained, the point is moot.
“Beta testing on public roadways where everyone is imperiled is not the safest way to test this science experiment,” said Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.
The legislation has the support of 145 members of the House and 36 senators, mostly Republicans. The bills have not moved forward since being introduced last year.
The federal trucking agency is reviewing comments on the proposal and it’s not clear when the program could begin. As of January 2021, there has been no news as to whether the Biden administration has decided to scrap or substantially revise the idea.
A group representing the trucking industry asked the federal government to launch a pilot program in 2000, but the idea didn’t move forward. In 2016, Congress told the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to conduct a pilot with drivers aged 18-20 who had military truck driving training. But few people leave the military at such a young age and the program has struggled to attract qualified drivers.
In 2019, the agency proposed a broader pilot and this past fall published a design for a three-year program.
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