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Amid Trucker Shortage, Administration Launches Program to Reduce Commercial Driver Age Limit

By: Allan M. Siegel

Our legal team at Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C. closely follows the trucking industry and many proposed legislative acts that have an impact on public safety and the communities we fight for in personal injury cases. Over the years, we’ve written on a lot of these proposed regulations and rule changes, some of which have been passed to the detriment of public safety (and the benefit of commercial trucking companies). We’ve also closely followed trucking industry and lobbyist efforts to rollback regulations like the minimum commercial driver age limit; efforts which until now remained on the table. A new program being advanced by the President Trump administration, however, will allow more younger truckers on our roads.

As reported by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the agency which oversees interstate commercial trucking will begin to implement a pilot program that would allow 18- to 20-year old drivers to operate commercial vehicles across state lines. Here are a few details about the program:

  • Under current laws, commercial drivers must be 21 years of age to drive commercial vehicles and tractor-trailers across state lines. The new program would allow drivers 18 and older to drive trucks in interstate commerce.
  • The pilot program is open to 18- to 20-year-old drivers who have experience and training with certain military occupational specialties, including members of the National Guard and other branches of the armed forces.
  • Under the DRIVE-Safe Act, the program will also include a safety policy that requires a minimum of 240 hours of apprentice driving with another veteran commercial driver before participants can cross state lines. An apprentice drivers is also capped at 65 mph.
  • The program will be implemented by the FMCSA later this year.

The pilot program and larger efforts to reduce the minimum age limit for interstate commercial drivers have been fueled by a long-standing, massive truck driver shortage, which we’ve blogged about throughout the years and as recently as March. According to industry associations and statistics, the trucker shortage is a chronic problem that began around the time of the recession and is expected to hit 63,000 this year. The current ratio of one commercial truck per 12 loads of cargo is also the lowest ratio since 2005.

Criticism & Concern for Public Safety

Although the trucking industry has struggled with attracting more truckers to replace an aging workforce and keep up with a rising demand for consumer goods, proposed solutions like reducing the minimum age for truckers have been criticized by safety advocates who cite a number of potential issues, including:

  • Reducing the age limit for interstate commercial drivers will allow big corporations to hire cheap labor, while increasing risks on public roads.
  • Younger drivers are more likely to be involved in serious auto accidents. According to the U.S. CDC, motorists ages 16 to 19 are roughly 3 times more likely than those over the age of 20 to cause fatal accidents.
  • Young driver crash risks are exacerbated when they operate larger vehicles, including commercial tractor-trailers that can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds.

Proponents of the program and legislative change claim these arguments are moot when most states already allow 18-year-olds to drive commercial vehicles within state lines. However, just because the status quo allows young motorists in some states to get behind the wheel of a massive machine that poses substantial risks to the public doesn’t mean it should be upheld and continued. That way of thinking has played a large part in the regulatory rollbacks, safety legislation blocking, and new relaxed rules that make our roads more dangerous places.

As federal regulators and the trucking industry prepare to launch the pilot program, there will likely be a great deal of scrutiny and continued criticism. From assessing the effectiveness of the training program to evaluating accident rates and other safety issues, the FMCSA and the companies involved will need to make safety a priority. However, as the trucking shortage grows and commercial trucking operators become more concerned with meeting demand, there remains the potential for fast-tracking laws that simply don’t stand up to what’s needed when it comes to public safety, as well as the setting of precedent to rollback important regulations across the board.

Trucking Accidents & Victims’ Rights

Our Washington, DC truck accident lawyers at Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C. have extensive experience representing victims injured in all types of tractor-trailer and commercial vehicle accidents across Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. We know all too well just how devastating commercial truck accidents can be, which is why we are passionate about fighting for the justice and compensation victims deserve, and intent on raising awareness about trucking industry initiatives that put our communities at risk. Regardless of the laws in place and those to come, we are always available to victims and families in need after they are injured by the negligence of others.

If you have questions about a recent truck accident and your rights when it comes to the personal injury claim process, call (202) 644-8303 or contact us online to request a free case evaluation.