History tells us that teenagers are capable of great, fantastic, remarkable feats. Alexander the Great was still a teenager when he became king of Macedonia and started building an empire that eventually grew to two million square miles of conquered territory. There have been teenage kings, queens, generals, business titans, music prodigies, inventors, and more.
Most modern Olympic gold medal winners in sports like gymnastics and figure skating are teenagers, or barely out of their teens. However, it is also true that teenagers are capable of, shall we say, lapses of judgment. Teens are responsible for thousands of auto accidents every year, and they are high on the list of various other statistics like crime, drug use, unwed pregnancy.
Teens Reckless Driving
Teens often have trouble controlling their impulses, and there is a scientific reason for this. Studies have shown that the human brain, specifically the prefrontal cortex, which is the seat of judgment, does not develop fully until a person is in his or her mid-20s. This means an 18-year-old is operating with a brain that is not functioning on all cylinders, and some older adults would say that is the explanation for the music they listen to, the clothes they wear, the colors they dye their hair, the need to stick a ring or a pin in various body parts, and many other lifestyle choices. Teens can seem so different from the older generation that they are almost like creatures from another planet, with their language and culture, their way of looking at the world.
Take the teenage attitude toward cars, for instance. Many teens see cars as more than just transportation. The day a teenager gets his drivers’ license is akin to the day a prisoner is pardoned from a jail term. Wheels are freedom to a teen, pure and simple. Unfortunately, some teenagers take that freedom and go crazy with it. Boys drive fast and recklessly to prove their manhood. Girls text while driving and both genders can pay little heed to road signs. Drugs and teens and driving is a toxic combination for sure. Moreover, one thing all teens have in common is that they think they are immortal (not a very realistic attitude to have, as we all know).
Teens and Car Accidents
The result is that teenagers lead in the number of traffic accidents each year by a wide margin. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that drivers 16-19 years old are almost three times more likely to be in a fatal automobile crash than those age 20 and older. In 2015 there were six teenagers a day in the US who died from traffic accidents, which is a huge number when you think of it.
Truckers, of course, can tell you lots of stories about sharing the road with teenage drivers. After all, what trucker has not had the experience of a foolhardy teen playing chicken with him or her by racing to get to a spot on the highway first? Alternatively, driving recklessly on an icy road, swerving, honking the horn, or doing dozens of other stupid things? Then there are the teens who think it is a great idea to have sex while they are barreling down the Interstate at 75 miles per hour! Oh, and texting while driving? That is pretty much a given with today’s teens. If you want to see a veteran truckers veins stand out in his neck, ask him to reminisce about teenagers on the road.
18-Year-Old Truck Drivers
You would be forgiven for thinking that most people would agree that putting a teenager behind the wheel of a 30-ton truck would not be the best idea in creation, and for many years that was the accepted wisdom. However, in the past few years, there has been a movement by the trucking industry to do just that. The DRIVE-Safe Act under review in the House would allow drivers under 21 to transport goods across state lines, and it is causing significant controversy. Read about the OOIDA’s view of the issue in which they argue the problem is not the lack of drivers, but a lack of good wages. You can read about it HERE.
Our trucking industry wants this because there is a growing shortage of drivers, and it is expected to get much worse. This current shortage of 50,000 drivers is expected to double within five years. The cost to the US economy for shipping delays and loss of deliveries runs into the billions. There is no doubt the trucking industry is in the midst of a crisis.
But seriously, teen truck drivers? Many veteran drivers are opposed, and so are various safety groups. They, of course, cite all the statistics about how many traffic accidents teens have each year and warn that allowing a teenager behind the wheel of a truck is utter madness.
That is all valid, of course, but it has not stopped the push to lower the driving age for trucks. Some experts say there is an excellent chance the bill will pass. See one of my earlier post-CDL Age Requirement!
Old Truckers and Teens
So what can we expect if teens are allowed to drive big rigs? Well, cynics might say there will be an upsurge of strange new music and clothing at truck stops, and probably lots more body piercings. In some truck stops, there will probably be an eerie quiet, though, as the young drivers spend all their time looking at their phones instead of flirting with waitresses or shooting the bull with their peers. Teens and the internet will become the new norm. Veteran truckers who want to speak the language of these youngsters may have to get familiar with the latest YouTube or Instagram sensation. Truck stops may have to add some healthier options to their menus since young people these days are generally more health-conscious than their elders.
However, look on the positive side. Lowering the driving age will alleviate the driver shortage and allow a lot of good, responsible teens (yes, they are out there) to get started on a career after high school that can pay them a good wage, rather than merely going to work in a fast-food restaurant or some other dead-end job.
Grizzled old truckers should approach this as a learning experience. One of the downsides of a career as a driver is that long-haul truckers have to be away from their families so much. They miss time with their kids and have a hard time reconnecting with them when they get off the road. If there is a sudden influx of teenage drivers in the trucking industry, it could give the older drivers an opportunity to learn the language and customs of this exotic species of humans, so they can communicate with their teenagers when they get home and help a father with understanding your teenage son.
On the flip side, the teen drivers will get to find out about what makes these older drivers tick. They may even learn something about what the world was like before smartphones and the Internet, and perhaps also develop a feel for music that was recorded before last year. Who knows, maybe these two groups will grow to like one another Now what a concept!
So let us be honest, the problem of teenagers is not new, these odd creatures have been around since the dawn of creation, or shortly after. In fact, some old grizzly truckers may have a memory of being teenagers themselves, and feeling that their parents were hopelessly out of touch and would never understand them.
If they try hard, they may be able to put themselves back in that time, and that will help them to understand the younger generation today.
Which is not a wrong way to look at the phenomenon of teenage truck drivers.
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