Should 18-year-olds be permitted to drive in interstate commerce? A somewhat technical and voluntary clause in the 1,000-page highway bill set for debate in the Senate has caught the eye of the trucking industry (generally supportive) and highway safety groups (strongly opposed).
The language is included in the DRIVE Act, the multiyear surface transportation authorization the Senate could work overtime to approve this weekend, ahead a July 31 funding deadline. Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) proposed the legislation, which would let states enter into agreements to permit CDL holders under age 21 to travel across state lines. Such commercial vehicle drivers are already permitted to drive intrastate.
The American Trucking Assns. (ATA) this week repeated a call for Congress to support the compact option, suggesting it would lead to a graduated CDL program.
“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. "This is something we can easily correct and, at the same time, move toward a graduated CDL system.”
But the Truck Safety Coalition on Friday urged its supporters to contact senators to oppose the language, noting a rise in truck-related fatalities since 2009.
“Congress should be doing everything to reverse this trend, not intensify it,” the group said. “This is why it is important to urge other Senators to support much needed changes to the DRIVE Act.”
The coalition favors the Markey amendment, which block Fischer’s language, and says teen drivers have a higher crash risk and do not have the experience or training to handle trucks.
But ATA says the legislation would take steps toward “rationalizing” the licensing laws.
“Graduated licensing is a proven and effective for reducing the risk of young drivers of passenger vehicles—millions of drivers have gotten their licenses this way—and it has been a top policy priority for many organizations, including some that are attacking Sen. Fischer’s proposal now,” said ATA Executive Vice President Dave Osiecki. “Research has conclusively shown the benefits of graduated licensing for young drivers. Some groups’ resistance to this commonsense commercial licensing proposal is as illogical as the current rules limiting interstate driving by young adults.”
ATA said one of the benefits of Sen. Fischer’s proposal is that states can choose to impose a number of safeguards to ensure these young adults learn appropriate behaviors on the road.
“This is the way we should be training, not just new truck drivers, but individuals in all fields,” Graves said. “States participating in the compacts this bill envisions could limit the types of cargo these drivers could haul, require extra technologies or restrict these trips to certain routes or times.
“At a time when the unemployment rate for young adults is nearly triple the national average – and our industry is looking to replace millions of soon-to-be retiring drivers as part of an aging workforce, this bill could be a tremendous boon not just to the trucking industry, but to the economy and to thousands of unemployed young people who might just find their next career,” he said.
The American Transportation Research Institute will be developing a “younger driver assessment tool” to better identify traits that make experienced drivers safe and ways to transfer those behaviors to younger drivers.