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Congress is eyeing 18-year-old tractor-trailer drivers as a response to the supply chain problems afflicting the country.
The bipartisan infrastructure package that passed the Senate would create a pilot program to allow drivers as young as 18 to obtain commercial driver's licenses and move goods across state lines. Current law doesn’t allow commercial truck drivers under the age of 21 to cross state lines. The pilot program would involve up to 3,000 participants at a time and would be evaluated after three years.
The program would help address a shortage of truck drivers, said Indiana Sen. Todd Young, who sponsored the legislation.
“The driver shortage has needed to be addressed for years but it has now reached a crisis level as we witness major supply chain bottlenecks across all sectors,” the Republican said in a statement to the Washington Examiner.
The requirement that young truckers remain within the confines of their state dramatically limits their opportunities in the industry, especially in smaller states. Proponents of the pilot program say that opening up the rest of the country to these younger drivers could help address the supply chain problems that have contributed to shortages of goods across the country and led to steep increases in the prices of many retail items.
Still, the idea of having teenagers, by far the most dangerous drivers, responsible for driving tractor-trailers across the country has generated resistance.
“Younger drivers are going to crash more frequently. It’s not like this is rocket science — anybody that has ever tried to insure a teenage driver on an automobile knows what you deal with,” said Todd Spencer, president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. “While not every teenager is the same, statistically, they’re going to be much more likely to have a crash.”
He said that the increased safety risk of bringing younger truckers into the fold outweighs any benefits.
Still, advocates of the pilot program note that trucking has been made safer in recent years. Trucks now have GPS devices, and regulations limit how long truckers can drive.
“As long as the training is where it needs to be, I personally don’t see a downside to it. We need stuff to get moving around the country,” Dan Maxwell, a distinguished lecturer at the University of New Haven and a former law enforcement officer.
The American Trucking Associations has supported lowering the minimum driver age and insists there is a driver shortage. Chris Spear, the president and CEO of the ATA, said this week that the industry is now down a record high of about 80,000 drivers amid the supply chain crunch.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, though, maintained there is not a shortage of certified commercial truckers. Spencer said more than 400,000 new commercial driver’s licenses are issued across the country each year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects about 231,100 openings for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers each year over the next decade. Spencer said the problem with trucking is not that there aren’t enough qualified people but that turnover and burnout are so high.
“Generally, income and benefits for truck drivers haven’t materially improved in 40 years since the industry was deregulated, and that’s why drivers come and go,” Spencer said, adding that there are very few incentives to keep people staying in the industry for the long haul and the pay generally doesn’t get much better over time. “There’s no perks to the job.”
The OOIDA contended that delays and problems with shipping stem from loading and unloading facilities, not from truck shortages. The group said truckers are often stuck waiting for hours at the facilities, in part because of a scarcity of warehouse labor.
Ports have also been overwhelmed by the supply chain debacle.
The Biden administration announced that the Port of Los Angeles, mired in delays and backlogs, will begin operating on a 24/7 basis to move products more efficiently from overseas into the country. Several companies, including FedEx and UPS, also recently announced that they would be scaling up operations as the holiday season approaches.
While several cogs in the supply chain are in disarray, lawmakers pushing for allowing younger people into the trucking industry see it as something that can only help improve the situation.
Lindsey Trent, the co-founder and president of the Next Generation in Trucking Association, said a quarter of truckers on the road today are at or close to the age of retirement and that introducing younger drivers to the industry could help attract drivers who will stick around.
“We need good, safe drivers. Instead of [trucking] being a second or third career choice for people, we're trying to be the first choice and really attract talent in our industry at a younger age,” Trent told NPR.
Sen. Cynthia Lummis told the Washington Examiner this week that the plan was a commonsense move to help alleviate some of the strain on the country’s supply chains.
“Americans are currently suffering under supply chain and labor woes, and Congress and the federal government should be doing more to help,” the Wyoming Republican said.
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Original Author: Zachary Halaschak