Many Groups Support Allowing Younger Long-Haul Truck Drivers

Giving commercial truck drivers as young as 18 the ability to operate across state lines is drawing support from industry leaders. The current age requirement is 21 years old.

“We don’t have an official position but you know, from a staff perspective, we definitely need more drivers involved and we really can’t see an objection to an 18-year old that qualifies, is certified and takes the training,” said Ken Gilliland, director of international trade and transportation for Western Growers.

“As it stands now, we have a shortage and it’s only going to continue to grow unless we find additional resources, and this seems to be logical step,” he said.

Farmers are in dire need of solutions, too. Nick DeKryger, vice president of business and finance for Belstra Milling in DeMotte, Ind., says labor, whether for the pig farms, milling operation or trucking enterprise, is the company's biggest challenge.

The demand for trucks is going up, and the need for truckers is going up, he says. DeKryger’s transport manager told him recently there were about 85 more loads than there were truck drivers and that’s what raises rates, along with increased regulations.

“We spend time trying to stay competitive so we can meet the needs of our customers and part of that is being competitive in our trucking rates,” he says.

Earlier this summer, several dozen trade associations, including the National Potato Council, the Food Marketing Institute, and National Grocers Association, wrote a letter in support of the DRIVE-Safe Act, or H.R. 5358. Introduced by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., the legislation seeks to bring younger truck drivers into the business of hauling interstate commerce.

The letter said that recent estimates put the driver shortage at 50,000 now, possibly topping 170,000 by 2026.

The letter said that while 48 states currently allow drivers to obtain a commercial driver’s license at 18, they are prohibited from driving in interstate commerce until they are 21.

The DRIVE-Safe Act would create a two-step apprenticeship program to allow these younger drivers to enter the industry, with under 21-candidates accompanied in the cab by experienced drivers for a total of 400 hours of on-duty time with at least 240 hours of driving time.

In addition, trucks would be required to be outfitted with the latest safety technology, including active braking collision mitigation systems, forward-facing event recording cameras, speed limiters set at 65 miles per hour or less and automatic or automatic manual transmissions.

“The DRIVE-Safe Act will help our nation’s freight continue to move while preserving the safety of our highway system,” the letter said.

“Congress should support this effort to help fill desperately needed jobs while providing younger Americans with the chance to get the training they need,” the letter said.

The legislation is supported by some trucking groups and opposed by others.

The American Truck Association supports the legislation, while the Grain Valley, Mo.-based Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association opposes the bill.

The owner-operator association said the legislation would be detrimental to highway safety.

“We think it’s irresponsible to put young kids behind the wheel of a truck in order to avoid addressing the real problems of high turnover,” Todd Spencer, acting president of OOIDA, said in a news release.

“The focus should instead be on fixing the staggering turnover rate with better pay and working conditions.”

Currently, 18-year olds can run trucks from San Diego to San Francisco but can’t make a short trip across the state line in Kansas City, said Joseph Rajkovacz, director of governmental affairs and communications for the California-based Western State Trucking Association.

The legislation would help address the arbitrary and “absurd” regulation that exists now, Rajkovacz said.

“What is being proposed is also to test the efficacy of allowing 21-year-olds crossing state lines,” he said. “I firmly believe that under the way the law is constructed, it is going to generate incredibly safe drivers,” he said.

He noted military reserve personnel under age 21 can haul an Abrams tank down the interstate in a convoy, but they can’t do it privately.

Rajkovacz said the legislation would help the industry, but it is hard to say how much.

People who can drive a truck in the military should be able to haul goods commercially, said Kenny Lund, vice president of operations at Allen Lund Co., La Cañada Flintridge, Calif.

Lund said young people can work in any other trade — like plumbing, for example — at 18 but they are prohibited from cross-country truck driving.

“Not everybody’s geared to necessarily go to a college, but they can go to a trade and be trained,” he said. “I think truck driving is a great, great option,” he said.