Legislation Reintroduced to Permit Teen Truckers

On February 26, 2019, Senators Todd Young (R-IN) and Jon Tester (D-MT) reintroduced the DRIVE-Safe Act in both houses of the United States Congress. A nearly identical version of the Act was introduced as recently as August 2018, but it stalled out before ever becoming law. Generally, the DRIVE-Safe Act will change federal law that prohibits individuals from 18 to 21 years old from operating commercial motor vehicles across state lines. One main goal would be to increase the pool of potential truck drivers to help with driver shortage issues. More drivers will help deal with the rising demand for commercial shipping and keep costs down for consumers. On the face, many may be concerned about the idea of an 18-year-old operating a fully-loaded truck down the interstate. The DRIVE-Safe Act will establish new safety standards and training programs for both new and experienced drivers. For the under-21 drivers, the Act would establish an apprenticeship program. The younger drivers would be required to complete at least 400 hours of on-duty time and 240 hours of driving time with an experienced driver – all while being in the cab with that driver. The trucks used in the training would also be regulated. These vehicles would be equipped with certain safety technologies including active braking collision mitigation systems, a video event capture system, and a speed governor set at 65 miles per hour or below. This apprenticeship program is all part of a two-step training initiative that would have set performance benchmarks the driver would need to meet. And this is all after the driver qualifies for his or commercial drivers license! In addition to the expansion of the driver pool, supporters of the law feel it will offer great opportunities to young people looking for job opportunities and potential college alternatives. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth (R-IN) called it “an opportunity to improve the lives of many young Americans, give them opportunities for advancement, increase safety and skills training, and enhance the economy by eliminating the obstacles currently preventing the trucking industry from alleviating its workforce shortage.” Early indications are that there is strong bipartisan support for the passage of this bill in both houses. The DRIVE-Safe Act is supported by a coalition of more than 50 industry trade groups, including the American Trucking Association. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) is strongly opposed to this proposed legislation. OOIDA President and CEO Todd Spencer wrote a letter to Congress stating that the law “presents obvious safety concerns for the new truck drivers it hopes to attract, as well as the traveling public.” He further argued that younger drivers, “generally lack the maturity and experience to operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) at the safest levels. Research consistently concludes that CMV drivers under the age of 21 are more likely to be involved in crashes.” Interestingly, OOIDA believes that the driver shortage narrative is a “myth,” and blames the largest motor carriers and "trade associations in DC that represent them” for pursuing the cheapest labor supply possible. Another potential concern expressed is that it could be difficult to obtain insurance coverage for under-21 drivers operating across state lines. Generally, the DRIVE-Safe Act appears to have support across the aisle, and it will be interesting to see how the bill progresses through both houses. If the DRIVE-Safe Act becomes law, it will certainly have an effect on the trucking industry and your particular operation or business! If you would like to express any support or dissent for the DRIVE-Safe Act, we would encourage you to reach out to your senator or representative and let him or her know how you feel. If have any questions, please contact Steve Setliff (ssetliff@setlifflaw.com) or Justin Thatch (jthatch@setlifflaw.com) at (804) 377-1260.