You can usually get a driver’s license at 16, but can’t become a truck driver professionally until 21. The DRIVE-Safe Act would allow that.
Each state sets it own laws for when someone can attain a driver’s license, ranging from as low as 14 years 3 months in South Dakota to 17 years in New Jersey. In the vast majority of states, the age is 16.
There is, however, a federal law against becoming an interstate truck driver professionally until age 21. (One can still become a professional truck driver younger than that, if driving solely within your home state — although that’s a small minority of such jobs.)
This is more important than ever right now, as America has a 51,000 truck driver shortage, up from 36,000 short in 2016.
Sen. Todd Young (R-IN)
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA50)
What the bill does
The DRIVE-Safe Act [S. 3352 + H.R. 5358] would lower the interstate commercial truck driving age to 18 nationally. The “DRIVE” acronym stands for Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy.
All such drivers would have to complete 240 hours of on-the-road experience with an experienced truck driver. The trucks in such training would be required to include certain safety features such as automatic “active breaking” systems and dashboard video capture.
What supporters say
Supporters argue the legislation will help ameliorate — and perhaps even solve — the national truck driving shortage, in a way that will expand economic opportunity and not really reduce safety thanks to the high training requirements.
“Unfortunately, we see many young Americans faced with the choice of either taking on thousands of dollars in college debt or entering into a job market with grim prospects for untrained workers,” Rep. Hunter said in a press release.
“My legislation addresses this issue in the trucking industry by allowing qualified drivers under the age of 21 to enter into an intensive vehicle operation and mentor-apprentice training program, allowing them to cross state lines moving freight across the country,” Rep. Hunter continued. “This is a common-sense approach that creates job opportunities for younger workers and provides a vital resource to America’s trucking industry that is critical in supporting our growing domestic economy.”
And as a _Washington Post _article noted, current federal law is “a quirk that means a 19-year-old can drive a semi-trailer truck several hours from Alexandria, Va. to Roanoke, Va., but he or she can’t drive a few minutes from Alexandria to Washington D.C.”
What opponents say
Opponents counter that the legislation will impede public safety. The teenage fatal crash rate per mile is almost triple that of drivers age 20+.
“Young drivers both lack overall experience and are less safe behind the wheel than their older counterparts,” writes Todd Spencer, president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.
“This has been tried before and no one with any common sense thought it was a good idea,” Spencer continued. “Nothing has changed since that time and no disruptions have ever taken place due to any perceived shortage of drivers. These latest efforts are just more ways to keep driver-churn going and keep wages as low as possible.”
Indeed, expanding the potential labor pool would increase the supply of workers and likely drive wages down. With the potential labor pool not expanding yet, the trucking industry is raising wages to solve their own shortage problem.
Odds of passage
The House version has 71 cosponsors: 66 Republicans and five Democrats. It awaits a potential vote in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
The Senate version has two cosponsors, both Republicans. It awaits a potential vote in the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
(The discrepancy in cosponsors between the two chambers is due to the House version having been out for months, while the Senate version has only been out for a week. After a week, the House version only had seven cosponsors.)
It’s also possible this policy change could happen anyway without congressional legislation. Due to the current truck driver shortage, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration began a test program letting 18-to-20-year-old members of the National Guard and those with military experience drive trucks across state lines.