Teenage Big Rig Drivers: Worst Idea Ever?

We’ve previously discussed the looming shortage of drivers in the trucking industry and the unwise proposal to allow younger drivers to operate heavy trucks on the nation’s highways. Unfortunately, that ugly bird has come to roost in the form of a recently introduced bill that currently is being considered by Congress.

Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., introduced new language in a larger transportation bill that would allow states to issue commercial driver’s licenses to 18-year-olds. You heard that right. You soon could be sharing the highway with 80,000-lb. semis, tractor-trailers and other big rigs driven by men and women who weren’t even born when Leonardo DiCaprio set sail in the Titanic movie.

Currently, drivers must be 21 years old in order to secure a commercial driver’s license that allows them to cross interstate lines. Under the proposal from Sen. Fischer, states would be able to overlook that requirement by signing pacts with contiguous states to lower the age requirement. As written, there are no limits on how many states could sign such a pact, which could allow 18-year-olds to pilot tractor-trailers from coast to coast.

Congress reportedly is awaiting a report from the Department of Transportation (DOT) regarding whether teenagers exhibit an “equivalent level of safety” when compared to older, more-experienced drivers. Here’s betting the rent that they’re not safer. In fact, statistics assembled by the DOT itself in 2013 show that drivers between the ages of 18-20 were 66 percent more likely to be involved in fatal traffic accidents compared to those who are 21 year old or older.

The recent push to put teenagers behind the wheel of the most dangerous vehicles on our roadways has been generated by the trucking industry and the industry’s favored political candidates. While the current and pending driver shortage must be addressed in order to prevent our nation’s commerce from falling behind, there are many better ways to handle this situation.

When a driver decides to leave the trucking industry, it’s rarely because they’re too old to do the job. Instead, it’s often because they’re not paid well enough and end up working long hours in order to make ends meet. The trucking industry also has dragged its feet in terms of keeping drivers happy at their jobs and identifying new, experienced drivers.