Hey, in case you missed it, remember the DRIVE-Safe Act? That was the bill that laid out training criteria by which anyone as young as 18 would be able to drive commercial trucks interstate.
Well, that bill died on the vine last year. The clock ran out on the legislative session before the bill could get it out of committee. But it left gums flapping over the pros and cons of the prospect.
A couple weeks ago, the idea was reintroduced in a new bill, with bipartisan support, no less. But that was among congressmen, who are generally noted as a collegial, congenial lot, at least compared to the trucking industry.
Among trucking folk, letting 18-year-olds run hither and yon over state lines has drawn battle lines, most between the usual sectors of the industry. In my capacity as a fly on the wall with nothing to gain either way, I have listened to both sides of the argument, and as is often the case I’m not completely sold in either direction, but I’m leaning.
One of the strongest arguments in favor of opening up interstate driving to younger drivers is that 48 states allow 18-year-olds to get CDLs for intrastate driving. How is driving a couple hundred miles in one big state any different than driving the same distance in five or six itty-bitty states?
There’s an equally strong argument on the other side: “Are you kidding? Let 18-year-olds drive interstate? They’re too flighty, too flaky, too dumb.”
Well, I can’t say as I disagree. Being 18 is 40 years in the rearview mirror for me, and for decades I’ve looked back at that phase between 18 to 25 as “having your grownup training wheels.” With each passing year I wish I could go back in time and whisper words of wisdom in the ear of my younger self, then smack him upside the head to make sure it sticks.
Yeah, it scares me to have kids behind the wheels of big rigs. Kids that age are careless, they’re reckless, they’re mindlessly aggressive. They think they’re going to live forever.
But you know what else scares me? The thought of old drivers behind the wheel of big rigs. They’re ornery, they’re stubborn. They’re gradually falling apart mentally and physically, and they either can’t see it or won’t admit it. They think they’re going to live forever.
There have long been calls for additional, more frequent testing of drivers after a certain age, especially commercial drivers. After living in Florida through eight snowbird seasons, I’m one of those callers. It’s even been suggested that there should be a mandatory retirement age for commercial drivers, just as there is for commercial pilots.
You don’t hear these suggestions much nowadays, now that the driver shortage has become an industry obsession. In fact, age has become a recruitment tool. “Hey, there, all you baby boomers! Still got some good working years in ya? Well, come to trucking. You won’t find any age discrimination here. We know you still got it.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average age among commercial truck drivers is 55. It’s also worth noting that with truck drivers’ legendary lifestyles, their life expectancy is 61. So, yeah, there is a real crisis looming.
A 2016 study by CBS News found that 10 percent of CDL holders were 65 or older. They broke down the statistics in five-year increments, starting at age 70. The good news was there were very few accidents attributed to drivers over the age of 90. The bad news was there are, in fact, professional drivers out there over the age of 90.
There are always those who will trot out the “age is just a number” argument. “Who’s to say who’s too old? Not everyone is the same.”
Fair enough, and if you can make that argument about who’s too old, wouldn’t it also hold true as to who’s too young?
Have you seen what these 18-year-olds would have to go through under this proposal? After they qualify for a CDL, they have to successfully complete another two-step training program. Then they have to log 400 hours of on-duty time, plus 240 hours of driving time with an experienced driver on board.
Sheesh, it sounds like by the time they’re done, they’ll be more than halfway to 21 anyway. It seems to me the process itself will weed out the ones who are too immature and it will help galvanize the ones who are ready to accept the responsibility. I kind of get the feeling that was part of the thinking when they put this proposal together.
I say give the kids a chance, or least a chance at a chance. If it’s a bad idea, it will reveal itself to be in no time.
Klint Lowry has been a journalist for over 20 years. Prior to that, he did all kinds work, including several that involved driving, though he never graduated to big rigs. He worked at newspapers in the Detroit, Tampa and Little Rock, Ark., areas before coming to The Trucker in 2017. Having experienced such constant change at home and at work, he felt a certain kinship to professional truck drivers. Because trucking is more than a career, it’s a way of life, Klint has always liked to focus on every aspect of the quality of truckers’ lives.