According to current federal law in the continental United States, a truck driver must be over the age of 21 to haul freight across state lines. With a trucker shortage hitting the United States, Congress is debating the Drive Safe Act, which would allow commercial drivers under the age of 21 to drive across state lines. Does this new piece of legislation constitute a good idea?
Driving Safe with the Drive Safe Act
Opponents of the Drive Safe Act say that allowing truck drivers aged 18-20 to cross state lines will only cause more harm than help. Dawn King, president of the Truck Safety Coalition, spoke at a Senate hearing on February 4th, 2020.
He showed to the members of the Senate statistics for intrastate commercial driving: those under 21 were four to six times more likely to be involved in fatal truck crashes than those above 21. Those at the age of eighteen were actually less likely to get into an accident than their nineteen and twenty-year-old counterparts, presumably because younger drivers make up what they lack in experience with added caution.
Proponents of the bill understand the statistics of younger drivers being less safe but point out the section in the bill that covers a special training component that should boost the driving capabilities of those under the age of 21. Some of the training components include:
- 400 hours of probation, 120 of which focus on basic driving skills and 280 that focus on general aspects of the trucking profession.
- The truck having a hard speed limit of 65 miles per hour, no matter the state the driver is located.
- The trainee driving with an experienced truck driver in the cab.
The driving capabilities of the otherwise underage drivers were not the only aspect of the bill brought into question; Dawn King voiced concerns over underage drivers receiving unfair treatment in regards to the types of jobs companies would assign them.
“We also believe that these young people would be the new hires, and they’re not likely to get the cushy job where they get to drive a 10-mile route near their home so they can be with their family every night,” King said. “We’re concerned that the younger drivers will end up on the longer routes, which will take them into states they’re not familiar with.”
Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) vice president Lewie Pugh voiced similar concerns at the Senate hearing, stating that drivers under the age of 21 would have a much harder time getting hired or insured.
“I only found two motor carriers at the time that would give me a job, and it wasn’t a very good job.” Lewie Pugh continues, “At 22, I bought my own truck but struggled finding carriers that would lease to me because of my age and lack of experience. I was 25 years old before the door was pretty much open for me to drive for anybody.”
The United States Constitution clearly states through the Commerce Clause that Congress has the authority to determine all things that have an effect on interstate commerce. At the same time, states have the power to determine commerce within their boundaries.
This creates an asymmetry in the law: 49 states allow a CDL driver to haul freight within its lines at age 18, and the last one–Alaska–requires an age of 19. This creates a two-to-three-year gap where someone can potentially have a CDL but be stuck withing the boundaries of their state.
“You can drive 850 miles in California, but you can’t go 10 miles from Providence, Rhode Island, to Rehoboth, Massachusetts,” says Chris Spear, American Trucking Association (ATA) President and CEO. That’s got to be the dumbest policy I’ve ever seen. You remedy it with training and technology. That’s exactly what [the Drive Safe Act] does.”
Proponents of the bill say it will help deter a trucker shortage in America. The ATA says that the shortfall could grow to 160,000 by 2028. With these numbers, it is no surprise that Chris Spear went to the Senate hearing in early February to voice his concerns.
If the trucker shortage is not addressed, the basic economic laws of supply and demand dictate that the price of shipments will go up, increasing the wages of existing truckers and ultimately passing the costs onto the end consumer.
The bill, its current version first brought to the senate in 2019, has a similar word count to this article. If you are interested in reading the bill, you can see S.569 here. Whether or not it will pass the House and the Senate to the president’s desk is yet to be seen. Both sides of the argument have made their case for or against the Safe Driving Act, now it is time to put it to a vote!