The idea of professional truck drivers under 21 crossing state lines to deliver their goods, a potential solution to the industry’s growing driver shortage, moved a step closer to reality when a bi-partisan group of legislators introduced the DRIVE Safe Act in both houses of Congress.
While all but one state currently allows individuals to obtain a commercial driver’s license and operate large commercial vehicles within their borders before they turn 21, federal regulations prohibit those same drivers from crossing state lines until they reach that age.
The DRIVE Safe Act would allow certified CDL holders already permitted to drive intrastate the opportunity to participate in an apprenticeship program designed to help them master interstate driving, while also promoting enhanced safety training for emerging members of the workforce.
It’s the third time the bill has been introduced. The first two, in 2018 and 2019, it never was brought to a vote.
Among the legislators who introduced the bill was Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana who has a background in trucking. In his state, 65 percent of communities depend exclusively on trucks to move their goods and approximately one out of 17 jobs are associated with the trucking industry.
“This bill has strong, bipartisan backing because it’s both common sense and pro-safety,” Chris Spear, president and CEO of America Trucking Associations said in a news release. “It raises the bar for training standards and safety technology far above what is asked of the thousands of under-21 drivers who are already legally driving commercial vehicles in 49 states today.
“The DRIVE Safe Act is not a path to allow every young person to drive across state lines, but it envisions creating a safety-centered process for identifying, training and empowering the safest, most responsible 18- to 20-year-olds to more fully participate in our industry. It will create enormous opportunities for countless Americans seeking a high-paying profession without the debt burden that comes with a four-year degree.”
At least two of the legislators sponsoring the bill – Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) – mentioned the inconsistency of driving many miles within their state and not being allowed to go the next mile or two to reach the neighboring state.
“The DRIVE Safe Act will eliminate this ridiculous regulation,” Sen. Young said.
Under the proposed legislation, after a driver meets the requirements currently in place to obtain a CDL, they can begin a two-step program of additional training, which includes rigorous performance benchmarks. Drivers must complete at least 400 hours of on-duty time and 240 hours of driving time with an experienced driver in the cab.
All trucks used for training in the program must be equipped with advanced safety technology including active braking collision mitigation systems, video event capture and a speed governor set at 65 miles per hour or less. Only once all these benchmarks are successfully met will the candidate be permitted to cross state lines.
Nearly 90 companies and trade organizations throughout the supply chain have supported enactment of the DRIVE-Safe Act. Jim Peters, president and CEO of Tennessee-based TLD Logistics, told Wright Media back in August allowing 18-year-olds to develop the necessary skills to safely operate a tractor trailer and cross state lines “makes perfectly logical sense.”
“The DRIVE-Safe Act comes at a time when the national economy is reeling from pandemic-related job losses,” Mark S. Allen, president and CEO of the International Foodservice Distributors Association, said. “At the same time, the pandemic highlighted how essential professional drivers are to our everyday life, increasing the demand for this specific kind of job.
“The DRIVE Safe Act will hasten our economic recovery by providing an opportunity for new drivers to enter the workforce while reinforcing a culture of safety far and above current standards.”
The idea of younger drivers in interstate commerce has its detractors. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) opposes lowering the minimum age and has called the truck driver shortage a myth.