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How the U.S. Might Drop the Driving Age for Truckers

Semi Truck in Motion

Currently, while people 18-20 years old can obtain a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), they’re prohibited from driving across state lines in a truck before they’re 21. That means that a lot of people in this age group aren’t really looking at trucking companies for work opportunities when graduating from high school. New legislation released last month will study whether or not the interstate CDL age should be dropped. Truckers are hopeful that if 18-year-olds are allowed to work for freight lines, it may provide a solution to the trucker shortage.

CDL Licensing and Interstate Trucking

The Senate recently proposed a bill that will allow drivers to obtain their CDL and drive at the age of 18. At the state level, 18-year-olds are allowed to obtain their CDL already, but federal law does not allow them to haul cargo across state lines until the age of 21. The new federal law, if enacted, will let carriers hire younger drivers, and might offer a solution to the trucker shortage.

The American Trucking Association (ATA) has been rallying for this cause for some time now. According to ATA members, by the time drivers would be allowed to obtain a CDL and drive across state borders, they have lost interest in truck driving and have found other career paths. The industry is currently short between 35,000 to 40,000 drivers. Once the shortage is resolved, carriers will still have to recruit almost 100,000 truckers on an annual basis to keep up with shipping demands. As the Baby Boomer generation heads into retirement over the next few years, the trucker shortage will only get worse.

ATA and OOIDA React to the Proposal

Senator Deb Fisher is the power behind the proposal. Her bill, announced this June, involves a pilot program that will test young drivers to see if they can handle interstate driving routes safely. It will allow states to make their own decisions regarding CDLs and interstate driving, as the prevention of employing drivers under 21 is arbitrary at best. The CDL testing will feature a graduated licensing program for young drivers that tests their ability to drive safely under trucking conditions.

Essentially, high school graduates will work as “apprentices” until they are allowed to graduate from the program and obtain their CDLs. The ATA wholeheartedly agrees with the bill, stating that it would be a “tremendous benefit for trucking and the economy.” The bill was recently forwarded to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The prevention employing drivers under 21 is arbitrary at best.

The Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), however, is pushing for a closer look at the bill and CDL standards. They state that until minimum training requirements are examined and approved, no changes will be made. They want to ensure that entry-level driver training is stringent and adheres to certain standards before the driving age is changed.

If Fisher’s proposal is accepted, it will allow freight carriers to hire truckers right out of high school, which will put hundreds of thousands of new truckers on the road and mitigate, perhaps even negate, the effects of the trucker shortage.


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