A new federal regulation recently went into effect, allowing 18-year-old old teens to drive semi-trucks across state lines.
The trucking industry is in a pinch these days. News reports over the last year indicate a severe shortage of available drivers. Add that to the overall supply chain backlog, and you get a lot of unhappy customers and businesses waiting on orders.
This new regulation has been in the works since 2020, facing obstacles along the way from various concerned groups.
We dug in to find out more about teens driving semi-trucks across state lines. Will it be a solution to a current problem or just create more issues on the road?
Let’s take a look!
18 Year Old Teen Semi-Truck Drivers Allowed to Cross State Lines
Until now, semi-truck drivers had to be 21 years old to travel between states legally. Younger drivers, 18 to 20, who obtained a commercial driver’s license, or CDL, could travel within their licensed state.
The new Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program will provide extensive training to young commercially-licensed drivers who have clean driving records. Experienced drivers will train the teens and will be with them during their on-the-road training.
Why Did the Federal Government Change the Regulations for Teen Semi Drivers?
According to the American Trucking Association, there is currently a shortage of about 80,000 truck drivers. The federal government, realizing they need to do something to help move the supply chain, began looking into solutions.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) first proposed the Safe Driver program in September 2020. Almost a year later, in November 2021, the Biden Administration signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law.
The act stipulates the federal agency establish the apprenticeship program for teen semi-truck drivers. Most states already permit 18- to 20-year-olds to obtain a CDL from their state of residency.
The teens entering the program will complete 400 training hours. Split into two probationary periods. The training will include performance benchmarks and driving a rig with special safety features.
The trucks used in training will include automatic braking systems, forward-facing cameras, and speed limited to 65 mph.
The experienced trainer paired with the trainee will also need to meet specific qualifications. They must be at least 26 years old and have five years of experience driving a rig. Additionally, they’ll need to have a two-year clean driving record, free of crashes or tickets.
Once the program is up and running, the FMCSA says no more than 3000 apprentices will be in the program at any one time.
Concerns About Teens Driving Semis
The citizen-based Truck Safety Coalition has been vocal in its opposition to the program from the beginning. The group points to car crash statistics in their concerns about teens driving large semi-trucks across state lines.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, “Commercial Motor Vehicle drivers ages 19 to 20 are six times more likely to be involved in fatal crashes than those aged 21 and older.”
President of the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Cathy Chase, expressed her concerns. “It makes no sense to put one of the most dangerous driving populations behind the wheel of 80,000-pound rigs,”
Chase believes a safer solution to the shortage is to make truck driving more appealing to older, more experienced drivers. More people may be encouraged to apply for driving positions by increasing pay and reducing driving hours.
The concerns expressed don’t seem to consider that teens are already driving semi-trucks within state lines. The extensive training proposed with the new program is aimed to help prepare young truckers to become safer drivers overall.
What Are the Risks of Being a Semi-Truck Driver?
There are hazards for truck drivers of all ages. As stated, the shortage of drivers tends to put more of a burden on those already on the roads.
To meet deadlines, drivers often drive longer distances and spend more hours on the road on any given day. Fatigue can interfere with any job but can prove deadly when at the wheel of a 40-ton truck.
Equipment-related injuries are another common risk associated with this profession. Operators of semi-trucks are often required to lift heavy loads and perform maintenance on their rigs. Add in long hours behind the wheel, and drivers face many potential physical problems.
Better training for all drivers could help create a safer environment inside the rigs and on the roads.
Will New Training Improve Teen Truck Driver Safety?
Concerns about teens driving semi-trucks between states are understandable. But the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program aims to alleviate problems most associate with inexperienced drivers.
Young drivers are already operating semi-trucks within most states. Specialized training will give these drivers the tools necessary to be trusted truckers on interstates. Time will tell how well the program works.
How do you feel about sharing the freeways with teen semi-truck drivers?
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After 36 years of driving semi-trucks in the U.S., and 52 years of driving overall, I have to say that I do not agree with having teens or 20 year olds driving a semi-truck beyond the state they live in. Heck, I don’t even agree with them driving semi-truck at all. Driving a semi-truck requires concentration and situational awareness of the moment at all times in all ways while being able to focus on the future and often the recent past with regard to the traffic, road conditions, weather and then some. It isn’t easy driving a truck. Being safe driving a semi-truck is a lot of work. I have nothing against teens and young folks driving per se. However, thinking of them still in the stages of life where distractions are easily more likely to occur, I cannot agree with having younger folks driving a semi-truck. Truly, it bothers me a lot and scares me to a degree.
Drivers are needed in a big way. However, paying drivers a better wage with better benefit packages would go a long way in retaining qualified older drivers with more skill and willingness to get the job done not only efficiently but also much more safely… in my honest opinion.
This is only going to cause more accidents and what about the drivers now who have medical conditions such as seizures and know of having seizures still drive. I drove all over Canada and the USA and what I’ve seen over 30yrs driving would make you think twice allowing a 18yr old drive semi It is going to cause many people to die or seriously injured. Was involved in a near head-on collision but my years of driving and quick actions I saved 4 people’s lives because the other driver in a 4 wheeler had a seizure and guess what she never lost her license. Now figure hat out. Now you got kids driving at 18 yrs old. Give you head a shake.