Should the Trucking Industry Lower the Minimum Driver Age?

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trucking industry

Facing potential worker shortages that would likely further exacerbate disruptions in supply chains experienced during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, leadership in the trucking industry have called on Congress to lower the minimum age for interstate truck drivers below the current 21. Although those 18 and over can drive commercial 18-wheelers and other freight trucks within state borders, 21 is the minimum age to cross state borders in a large truck weighing at least 10,000 pounds, which makes up most of the industry’s business.

Trucking companies have offered to create apprenticeship programs for younger drivers, similar to what is offered by building and construction trades. They have also pledged to increase focus on safe driving techniques, with new cabs designed to train new drivers. They also claim lowering the minimum age will attract more women and applicants of color to a field that is over 95 percent male and historically mostly white.

While the industry worries over driver shortages and refilling the talent pipeline after the pandemic closed driving schools and shuttered licensing offices, safety advocates believe this is not the best way to solve the problem. They point to the increased rate of large truck accidents and road fatalities, most of which affect those in passenger cars or outside of the truck. They also point to the rate of teen fatalities when driving, three times higher than those 20 and older behind the wheel per mile. Truck drivers benefit from prior driving experience to stay safe and make good decisions on the road. Many believe the proposal currently in Congress to lower the driving age works against that industry practice.

How Do People Become Truck Drivers?

Compared with other professional training offered by schools or trade unions, it does not take long to become a truck driver. Companies do not usually require a college or high school degree. Some will not mandate applicants complete driving school training, which can take around a month. To get hired, candidates do need to obtain a state-issued Commercial Driver’s License, which allows the recipient to drive professionally. Hiring companies often put more emphasis on background checks and driving records. Obviously, anyone behind the wheel of a multi-ton truck charged with transporting freight across long distances should not have accidents or tickets. Usually, that approach favors experienced drivers who have done well with passenger vehicles or other positions such as driving a bus. Applicants also must pass physical and drug tests administered by state Departments of Transportation.

Many trucking companies will not hire candidates below the age of 23. This is because most insurance companies will not offer coverage for drivers who have not turned 23. This is a common issue with young drivers. Many in high school and college are covered by their parents’ or guardian’s insurance policy, which often creates a higher bill. Car rental companies will refuse to allow a driver under 25 to rent a car or will charge an extra premium. Even then, that driver must be at least 21 years old.

What Does Driving a Large Truck Professionally Entail?

Truck drivers have earned a spot in American culture for working a job that is increasingly important to our economy but also personally very taxing. Most driving interstate routes face long days and nights on the road, not seeing family or friends for weeks at a time. All that time in the seat can wear on the body and mind. New hires often get the least desirable assignments, as they are bidded on and handed out based on seniority. That could mean dealing with customs agents on the border of Canada or Mexico; it could mean navigating congested cities such as New York or Los Angeles.

Although the demands of the job can be difficult, social isolation is often cited as the worst downside. Being on the road so long limits the ability to build relationships or spend time with family and friends. It can put strains on marriages and hamper attempts to effectively parent. This lifestyle is part of the reason the industry struggles to attract and retain drivers. Opening the positions to younger applicants could allow more people without families or other obligations to start their careers and build their lives within the field. However, it can also be a difficult ask for those starting on their own without most of the social support systems associated with growing up. Driving a large truck presents a contrasting social lifestyle to what is presented by institutions of higher learning and most trade unions.

Although the field presents many challenges not seen in most traditional professions, the pay scale can create different opportunities. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, truck drivers earn a median annual wage of $47,130. Comparatively, delivery truck drivers only make $34,340 annually. Large truck drivers can earn more with bonuses, per-mile pay, union representation, or as owner-operators. Although the hours are long, there are more protections and rules compared with most delivery drivers.

How Dangerous can Driving a Large Truck Be?

Despite the best training, large trucks do cause accidents. Sometimes these are caused by other drivers not following the rules. Other times, large truck drivers make mistakes when overtired or working in unfamiliar areas or with new equipment. Here are some of the statistics about accidents involving commercial trucks:

  • Truck driving is the seventh-most dangerous job in the United States. Approximately 918 truck drivers die on average annually, with the amount increasing by 6.6 percent from 2016 to 2018. Delivery truck drivers are three times more likely to die than the average worker.
  • Truck accidents have become more catastrophic over the years. Since 2009, fatalities have increased 52 percent to 5,005 in 2019, and personal injuries have gone up 114 percent to 159,000 that same year. Fatal accidents are happening over 40 percent more frequently per 100 million miles driven. Almost all the fatalities occur to occupants of passenger vehicles.
  • Nineteen percent of the accidents involving large trucks happened between noon and 3:00 p.m. during the day in 2017, which is the most frequent occurrence. That number is up from 17 percent in 2014.
  • Issues with equipment are the most cited cause of accidents. Approximately 30 percent of accidents happen when a tire blows out or loses tread. Other causes include failure of electronic systems, brakes, or steering wheels.
  • Over half the accidents involving large trucks happen on major roads, such as state roads, whereas only 32 percent occur on highways and freeways.
  • Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday accounted for more than half of the fatalities in 2017. A total of 745 deaths occurred on Thursday, the deadliest of the week. By comparison, weekends saw only 16 percent of the year’s fatalities associated with large truck accidents.

Truck driving is a dangerous business. The profession sees high turnover rates, especially among new drivers, despite competitive salaries that have gone up during the pandemic and will likely continue. Proponents of legislation to reduce the driving age believe the country will need 110,000 new truck drivers by the end of this decade. However, that would also put more at-risk drivers behind potentially dangerous vehicles. Younger drivers often lack the experience or temperament associated with courteous, risk-managing drivers who excel in professional roles.

A major factor will be the implementation of the new Entry Level Driver Training mandate, which will take effect by next year. This will require more training before certifying drivers, likely putting the end to some driving schools that can complete their programs in a month. The codified requirements look to create more uniform driving school programs and make entry level drivers more hirable for trucking companies. If successful, this could do a lot to embolden legislators to lower the driving age. Passing legislation that would make trucks safer, such as the Senate proposal to install underride guards to trailers that would prevent passenger vehicles from being swept under the side or back of a truck, might create a feasible compromise and sway more officials.

Baltimore Truck Accident Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Can Help Handle Insurance Claims

Truck accidents can happen and often leave devastating effects. If you or someone you love was injured or killed by a large truck, the right lawyer can make all the difference. The Baltimore truck accident lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton have the experience with the insurance companies and will fight to get you everything you deserve. Call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreColumbiaGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.