Once again the CDL age requirement is an issue that is up for debate. Two specific legislative proposals are on the agenda in the House of Representatives. HR 5358 Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy Act and HR 3889 Waiving Hindrances to Economic Enterprise and Labor Act. What this all adds up to is if either of these bills is passed, it will lower the CDL age requirement to 18 years old. These two bills are being touted as a way to help with the current driver shortage and an effective way to generate the next generation of truck drivers’.
All the usual players are at the forefront of the arguments for and against these new laws. Our Owner/Operator Independent Drivers Association is against the proposal citing the fact that 19-year-old drivers’ are three times more likely to be involved in vehicle accidents and 18-year-old males lack the maturity to navigate a big rig cross-country. The American Trucking Association is for the legislation suggesting it would allow for the training of a new fleet of young drivers’ as older drivers’ age out. Some new requirements for 18-year-old drivers’, I feel are way too intrusive and could lead to more problems down the road.
As happened in the late 1980s when the CDL went into effect, the ELD regulation has led to older drivers’ fleeing the industry, like a truckload of geese. The questions of allowing 18-year-old drivers’ to get a CDL was first talked about at the start of 2000. Since then even more new regulations were implemented by our government and this has led to more drivers’ leaving the once desirable trucking industry. Now they want to fix this by allowing people 18 years old to get a CDL and drive all 48 states.
There are countless arguments against this, some of which do make a lot of sense. I am not so sure that it is the question of age as much as a question about maturity, and how does one gauge a person’s maturity level? Science tells us the brain, more specifically the prefrontal cortex, isn’t completely developed until an average age of 25 – more time for males than for females. The prefrontal cortex is accountable for a person’s attention span, complex planning, decision-making, impulse control, logical thinking, organized thinking, and short-term memory. Until this is all fully developed, a young person is just a wild teenager.
The other thing most talked about, is the accident rate for young people between 18 and 21 years old. On an average day, large trucks are involved in almost 10 fatal crashes. Now we all know these are not all the fault of the truck driver, but it is a statistic that is advertised when arguing against this proposal. From 2009 through 2013 the death toll rose every year and the majority deaths were people driving the smaller car. The nations two largest rental car companies, for the most part, will not rent to anyone under 21 years of age. The fatal crash rate for 18-20-year-old drivers’ is more than double the rate for drivers’ 21 and older.
Currently, drivers’ between the ages of 18 and 21 may obtain a CDL for use in-state only. Not every state allows this, but there are the proposals that would allow certain drivers’ to get a CDL to cross state lines. These would be drivers’ with a military background or similar training and experience. A lot of trucking associations are behind this plan saying it helps alleviate the driver shortage
There are a variety of ideas being touted about on the many ways the age could be lowered to 18. One of the main ideas is stricter training programs beyond current requirements to ensure safety and that drivers’ are better prepared. Industry experts say with the ELD Mandate it will be easier to keep track of driver hours and there is the talk of in-cab cameras. With Qual-Com on just about every truck, the dispatchers will be able to track every move a driver makes, including when he stopped last to use the facilities. The legislation would also require a driver to log 400 hours of on-duty time and 240 hours of driving time with an experienced driver in the cab after earning a CDL. I guess this is why many drivers’ are leaving the industry because this is all too much information and sooner or later it will become the norm for the industry.
The ATA, last year reported a shortage of 50,000 drivers’ and the average age of drivers’ today is 52 years old as compared to the national average of 42 years in the private workforce. This is being promoted as a way to cure some of these problems. Many young Americans are confronted with the choice of either taking on thousands of dollars in college debt or entering the job market with very little opportunity for someone with no college. If administered properly by all the companies involved this may be a good way for a young person to enter the trucking industry, but the emphasis would have to be on an extremely, detailed training program, much like Army boot camp.
As with any government program, it all starts out looking great on paper, but these things have a tendency to go sideways after a while.
As talked about earlier, it is more about maturity than age. We all know some 16-year-old individuals that have the maturity and knowledge to drive an eighteen Wheeler, whereas some 18 years old are lacking. A good example would be a young person raised on the family farm in Nebraska, where you learn a very young age about large machinery. On the other hand, you may have a young person that was raised in a large city, where the only driving they have done is seeing how fast their dads’ cars will run.
The OOIDA has written to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure voicing their opposition to this idea. Some issues they express are that this would be dangerous to road safety, but also to some of those trying to enter the trucking industry as professionals. The younger drivers’ lack overall experience and are less safe under the wheel than their more mature counterparts. Studies have demonstrated that most drivers’ under the age of 21 lack the overall maturity, skills, and judgment that is needed in handling CMVs. The OOIDA also states, that Congress should instead focus on the reasons for the staggering driver turnover rate, which is still higher than 90%.
Another thing that was written about in the letter by the OOIDA are the concerns I would have and they explained, the larger companies taking advantage of the younger drivers’. Low pay is one of the major issues and getting rid of the more challenging loads onto the less experienced driver. Younger drivers’ would be more susceptible to poor working conditions, such as older tractors and equipment that may not be up to par. They also could be talked into predatory lease-to-own schemes or pay packages such as percentage pay that is not very appealing to a more experienced driver.
If these companies want to put these younger drivers’ to work, they are going to have to be totally honest and up-front with the individual, explaining and teaching them all there is about the trucking industry, not trying to take advantage of a younger driver. I fear this will not happen, the turnover rate will continue, and many young people will become very disillusioned about a career in which they could have done really well in.
Keep the Government Out
The American Trucking Association, large trucking companies, and many others are advocating for the passage of this legislation. Others will tell you that once you let the government into your organization, pretty soon they will control your operations. We see this more and more in every industry in our Nation. If this bill passes, it will give our government another way to dictate to the industry how to run their operations. First, we had the CDL, which as far as I can tell did not decrease trucking accidents and only led to corruption in the system. Tell me how a person that can’t read English can get a CDL? Yes, they do have the test in other languages, but these people can’t read the road signs.
Then they came along with the Qual Com to keep track of all the trucks, which in a lot of ways if used properly is a big plus to the industry. In some ways that took a lot of the trust built up between a driver and his company, as a lot of companies used this to question a drivers’ judgment about traffic, the routes they took or why they stopped where they did and why so long.
Is the new ELD Mandate going to make truck driving any safer? That remains to be seen, but a lot of people say that if anything, it will increase accidents. An individual should know and be responsible enough to figure out how his body works, how much sleep they do or don’t need, how much work they can do and when to eat. Read one of my earlier post on the subject of how people are different and how the government can’t regulate everybody.
If anything, it should be the companies choice if they want to employ 18-year-old drivers’. My guess is it will be hard to get the insurance companies to cover these younger drivers’ at a rate the companies can afford. At the same time, it is going to be the drivers’ responsibility to let the company know if he thinks they are taken advantage of and proper ways are going to have to be in place for them to do this.
They are promoting this legislation as a way to aleve the driver shortage. Most of us would have to agree with the OOIDA that companies need to concentrate on retaining drivers and ways to make the industry more attractive to young people. One of the ways being talked about to make this bill more attractive to the public is in-cab cameras. The trucking industry was at one time a great place to work because a person was given the freedom to do a good job the best he or she knew how. Are you telling a new driver that you trust them if you have a camera installed to keep an eye on their every move?
It takes a different kind of person to drive a truck across our great Nation. One that wants to be left alone, have the freedom to do the job as they feel is best and not have a boss standing over them at all hours of the day. It’s these kinds of freedoms that made this job attractive before, but those days are long gone. The CDL went into effect and has done nothing to improve safety. If, anything it has made it harder and more expensive for a young person to get started in the industry. ELDs went into effect this year and now a driver has no flexibility to when he can work, sleep or eat. This just tells a driver that he is not trusted and responsible enough to get the proper rest and not drive when they are tired or don’t feel safe. For some people sitting in your sleeper for ten hours when you can’t sleep is more dangerous, then say getting six hours of good sleep.
Is this going to solve the shortage of qualified drivers, my guess is that it won’t! Would it make you feel trusted with a camera in the cab, not knowing if or when someone could tune into what you are doing? The usual companies will jump on-board with the belief that their training programs will be adequate to teach these young people how to drive. What we will end up with is more people making stupid mistakes that everyone can put on You-Tube, thus giving the public more reasons to dislike truckers and one more black eye to this once proud industry.
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