The Debate: CDL Minimum Age


The Commercial Driver Act (S.1672), introduced last month by Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) would let truck drivers under the age of 21 operate commercial motor vehicles across state lines. Now, 18- to 20-year old drivers are only allowed to drive intrastate. Participating states would have to enter the agreement and standardize the licensingrequirement for drivers who will travel between states.

The American Trucking Association supports the legislation. “Right now, an 18-year-old can drive a truck within the borders of his state, but not to deliver goods across state lines—this means a young adult could drive a truck from El Paso, Texas to Dallas—a distance of more than 600 miles—but couldn’t cross the street to deliver that same load from Texarkana, Texas to Texarkana, Ark.,” said ATA President and CEO Bill Graves. According to the ATA, a main benefit of the Commercial Driver Act is that states would be able to impose safeguards to ensure young, inexperienced drivers learn safe trucking practice for the road.

The ATA believes the change will draw younger people to trucking jobs; the legislation creates jobs for high school graduates who suffer from high unemployment rates. And, the US trucking industry is experiencing a driver shortage that is estimated to be short about 50,000 drivers, and will increase to 240,000 drivers by 2023.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has claimed that effective driver training is essential before any CDL rule changes are made.

On the other hand, Sen. Deb Fisher’s legislation meets strong opposition by the Truck Safety Coalition (TSC). The TSC opposes Fischer’s language, mentioning an increase in truck-related crashes and injuries since 2009. According to the TSC, drivers under 21 lack experience and have a higher crash risk.

The American Transportation Research Institute may have an idea to resolve the issue: it will work on a “younger driver assessment tool” that identifies experienced drivers’ behavior features and finds ways to teach young drivers such behaviors.

The legislation is supported among professionals in the trucking industry; it proposes changes that could engage more young people to drive and will help relieve the driver shortage. Alternatively, there are safety concerns when it comes to young, inexperienced drivers who will operate long hours. The disputes will continue, while the highway bill is set for debate in the Senate.

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