July 12, 2022

Should Teenage Drivers Be Allowed on the Long-Haul?
Should Teenage Drivers Be Allowed on the Long-Haul?

Is 18 Too Young for Long-Haul Interstate Drivers?

The long-haul truck driver transports goods and other items in commercial vehicles to many destinations across many states. Currently, the minimum age requirement to cross state lines during a long-haul trip remains at 21. With an increased demand for goods, unfilled driver seats, and the yearning for younger generations to get involved in more serious work, lowering the minimum age requirement to 18 for interstate commercial drivers is gaining headway. The FMCSA proposed a pilot program in 2020 that would allow 18–20-year-olds to operate commercial vehicles across state lines for commerce. The pilot program was not launched then and resurfaced in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed in November 2021.

Pilot Program for Teenage Long-Haul Drivers

On January 14, 2022, the FMCSA released a notice with a start for establishing the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program. The program will allow persons 18-20 to apprentice an experienced driver 26 and up. The pilot program will determine the conditions and safety specifications drivers under 21 would need to complete successful interstate commerce runs. Individuals interested in a career in long-haul trucking will be able to start traversing the states at 18, under the wing of an experienced driver. The truck driver, recently recognized as a job of the future, is a career gaining headway again. Starting a truck driving career at 18 will allow individuals to acquire the necessary training earlier, leading to a successful future in the trucking world.

Long-Haul Driver Shortages Means Turning to Younger Drivers

Since the trucking world isn’t going anywhere, and the demand for goods is rising again, filling drivers’ seats in commercial trucks is becoming essential. The changing times, cultures, and customs have led to a nationwide truck driver shortage. Trucking companies are looking for ways to appeal to drivers and turning to a younger generation eager to learn, and train may be the solution. But will the pressures of training someone younger be too much for experienced drivers? Old school truckers are a tight-knit community, and changes like electronic logs, the push for greener emissions, talks of implementing speed limiters, and more are discouraging and angering them. Many drivers who have spent significant amounts of their lives on the road are reluctant to change. Still, change is inevitable as time progresses, and finding a medium in the evolving trucking world is vital for future success.

Safety Concerns for Teenage Long-Haul Drivers

The main issue surrounding minimum age requirements for interstate truck drivers is safety. Driving a commercial vehicle is significantly different from driving a regular car, and safety procedures for truck drivers are different than that of daily commuters. A fully loaded 18-wheeler can weigh as much as 40 tons, and safely maneuvering such a large mass from state to state is no easy feat. Teen drivers have crash rates four times higher than drivers aged 20 and up. At 16 years old, a teen can obtain a permit and practice driving with another experienced driver, and it’s not until age 17 that teens are allowed to get a driver’s license. Considering these requirements and statistics for teenage drivers obtaining a regular driver’s license, the argument that 18 may be too young to operate a commercial vehicle is not far-fetched. The Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program attempts to combat safety concerns for younger commercial drivers by placing them in an apprenticeship under an experienced driver for a certain amount of time. The pilot program is said to last three years, after which assessments will be made about the young apprentice’s ability to safely and effectively operate a commercial vehicle for interstate commerce on their own.

Military Trained Teenage Drivers Allowed on Long-Haul

There is currently one exception to the no under 21 interstate truck driver rule: military experience. Under the FMCSA Under 21 Military CDL Pilot Program, former members of the military who received heavy-vehicle driver training qualify for commercial trucking jobs that travel interstate. Learning to operate heavy military vehicles can prepare individuals for the precautions and skills required to handle a semi-truck.

Whether or not 18 is too young to be an interstate truck driver is still up for debate, and The Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program aims to solve that. The demand for truckers who can travel interstate is only going to continue to grow, and closing the driver shortage gap is essential.