Is Allowing 18-Year-Olds to Train as Interstate Commercial Truck Drivers a Good Idea?

We’ve all seen the empty store shelves — everything from food to toys to health care items to, in some cases, toilet paper (again). And we’ve all heard the stories about global supply chain issues, a complex problem with many moving (and, not moving) parts. Part of the problem in the U.S. is we don’t have enough long-haul commercial truck drivers to meet the demand. As drivers of the Baby Boom generation are retiring, fewer younger drivers are stepping up to fill those vacancies.

Until now, the minimum age to obtain an interstate commercial driver’s license (CDL) was 21. But with President Biden’s massive $1 trillion infrastructure bill signed into law last month, a new provision will give younger, teenage drivers a shot at getting their interstate truck driving licenses.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is behind a pilot apprenticeship program that will allow trucking companies to hire and train interstate commercial truck drivers as young as 18 years old. Proponents of the program say it will help replace the aging generation of long-haul truckers, and get freight stuck in supply chain limbo moving again. Opponents point to data that says teenage drivers are four times as likely to be involved in traffic crashes (due to lack of experience and poor judgment), and they fear more deadly truck accidents on our nation’s highways.

The good news is the Federal pilot program requires young apprentice truck drivers to be accompanied by an experienced driver in the passenger seat. In addition, they will be driving trucks outfitted with special safety equipment, including an active braking collision mitigation system, automated or automatic transmission, a forward-facing video event capture system, and 65-mph speed limiting devices.

The program’s rules are stricter for 18-year-olds, who must hold a commercial intrastate driver’s license (that’s right … you’re probably already sharing the road with younger drivers piloting big rigs in your state, including here in Maryland, where the minimum age for intrastate hauling is 18). They will also be subjected to two probationary periods — one 120-hour probation and a 280-hour probationary period — under the apprenticeship program set up by their employers. Drivers who are 19 or 20 years old could take part in the same program, or become eligible if they’ve held a commercial driver’s license and driven within their state for at least one year and 25,000 miles.

There is a precedent for 18-year-olds operating big rigs…in the U.S. Military. Time will tell how this Federal pilot program works out, and whether it eases supply chain issues while ushering in a younger generation of long-haul commercial truck drivers. As Car and Driver magazine so aptly puts it, “Eventually, 18-year-olds may be eligible to haul a load of beer from Texarkana to Atlanta. But they still won’t be able to drink it.”


Teen Truckers Are Taking to the Streets, and Safety Advocates Are Worried
Bloomberg  Dec. 2, 2021

Infrastructure Bill Delivers Much for Trucking
Heavy Duty Trucking Magazine  Nov. 8, 2021

Congress Considers Allowing 18-Year-Olds to Become Cross-Country Truckers
Car and Driver  Sept. 10, 2021

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) — Teenagers
“Teen drivers have crash rates nearly 4 times those of drivers 20 and older per mile driven.”
Collected online Dec. 2, 2021

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