A provision in the proposed surface transportation bill would allow more commercially licensed drivers younger than 21 years old to drive big rigs across state lines.
The idea of effectively lowering the federal age requirement for a commercial driver’s license (CDL) from 21 to include drivers 18 to 20 years of age enjoys widespread support within the trucking industry, which forecasts a serious shortage of commercial drivers in the years ahead.
Under legislation proposed by Senator Deb Fischer (R-NE) as part of the DRIVE Act, states could enter agreements to allow commercially licensed drivers younger than age 21 to travel across state lines instead of just intrastate, which they are already allowed to do in several states.
The American Trucking Association (ATA) has urged Congress to support the provision. Industry officials said the measure could lead to a graduated CDL program whereby young drivers gain experience and full driving privileges in stages, similar to the training teen drivers receive for passenger vehicles.
“Right now, an 18-year-old can drive a truck within the borders of his state, but not to deliver goods across state lines — this means a young adult could drive a truck from El Paso, Texas to Dallas — a distance of more than 600 miles — but couldn’t cross the street to deliver that same load from Texarkana, Texas, to Texarkana, Ark.,” said ATA President and CEO Bill Graves. “This is something we can easily correct and, at the same time, move toward a graduated CDL system.”
The Truck Safety Coalition and other truck-safety advocates oppose the measure and have called on their supporters to lodge formal objections, pointing to a rise in deadly commercial truck crashes since 2009.
“Congress should be doing everything to reverse this trend, not intensify it,” the group said. “This is why it is important to urge other Senators to support much needed changes to the DRIVE Act.”
Opponents argue that while some younger CDL drivers may be wise and responsible beyond their years and thus perfectly capable of safely driving big rigs, on average young drivers are the worst. According to the U.S. Transportation Department, teens cause fatal vehicular crashes at a rate three times higher than drivers 20 years of age and older.