On November 15, 2021, President Joe Biden signed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill into law following much debate and a long battle through the Senate. A small piece of the bill is a pilot program initiative designed to test the feasibility of lowering the mandatory minimum age of interstate truckers from 21-years-old to 18-years-old. The White House’s website (whitehouse.gov) explains that the pandemic has exacerbated the pre-existing workforce issues facing the trucking industry. According to the American Trucking Association, the driver shortage as of 2021 was approximately 80,000 drivers. The Drive-Safe Act is designed at relieving the stress on the industry by providing a new group of eligible employees. While drivers aged 18-21 have previously been able to complete intrastate trips, the Drive-Safe Act develops a pilot system to allow younger drivers to complete interstate trips.
Among other initiatives, the bill creates a two-step apprenticeship program for drivers beginning at age 18. Following their completion of a CDL licensing program, a young driver may enter the additional apprenticeship program which includes 400 hours of on-duty time and 240 hours of driving time with an experienced driver. All of these young drivers will train on trucks equipped with safety equipment including video event capture systems and governors of 65 miles per hour or lower.
Opponents of the bill pointed to a 2019 study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety which demonstrated that the rate of fatal crashes per miles driven for drivers 16-19 is nearly three times that of drivers ages 20 to 24. According to another study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, teen drivers are four times as likely to be involved in an accident as drivers who are at least age 20. Proponents of the bill have pointed to current legislation existing in almost every state which allows drivers of the same age to complete intrastate trips, arguing that it makes no difference if they remain instate or cross state lines.
The program would create space for 3,000 drivers ages 18-20 to begin the training process and begin taking interstate trucking jobs. It is not yet clear how these 3,000 slots will be distributed among states or how drivers will be able to apply for the program. With an estimated 80,000 driver shortage, the 3,000 seat program included in the Infrastructure Bill seems unlikely to unburden the trucking industry, but hopefully it’s success will lead to greater opportunities for young drivers.
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