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Why the Trucking Industry Needs Younger Cross-Country Drivers

The Senate recently approved an infrastructure bill that includes language which permits legal adults under the age of 21 to drive Class 8 trucks across state lines, according to the Wall Street Journal. <sup> 1</sup>

The proposed legislation would set up a pilot program that would allow people as young as 18 years old for interstate travel in tractor-trailers, which has been pushed for by several trucking associations and commerce advisory groups to curb ongoing issues of high driver turnover and to counter the increasing number of veteran drivers that are retiring, according to Transport Topics. <sup>2 </sup>

Those opposing the initiatives of the new legislation suggest that allowing younger truck drivers to travel interstate does not solve larger industry issues. However, this legislation could help bring about a number of new benefits to the industry that it certainly needs now.

Larger Driver Pool

As mentioned, an impetus to the creation of the proposed legislation was aimed at addressing driver shortage concerns, brought on in part due to the high driver turnover in the industry.

Expanding the age range of truckers who are allowed to travel across state lines to include younger adults will inherently create a larger pool of drivers for trucking companies to hire.

From this, however, concerns regarding the capabilities of younger drivers to extensively perform trucking duties safely have arisen. However, companies who have drivers that operate in large states – and traverse longer distances – may recognize that this is a non-issue.

“Proponents of lowering the federal age limit say that plenty of young commercial-driver’s-license holders already drive long distances within large states like Texas and California,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

Addressing Safety Concerns

Expanding upon the safety concerns of those opposing the legislation, there are some who suggest that hiring younger drivers will increase the likelihood of crash incidents occurring for trucking companies. Certain studies have suggested that younger drivers are inherently more likely to be involved in crash incidents.

For example, highway safety advocates have cited an analysis by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety showing that teenagers are far likelier to crash than older drivers.

However, the proposed pilot apprenticeship program will require a specifically regimented type of training, intending to ensure these younger drivers are safely able to navigate roads as truck drivers for extensive periods of time.

“Under the legislation, once a driver qualifies for a commercial driver’s license, they begin a two-step training program with at least 400 hours of on-duty time and 240 hours of driving time with an experienced truck driver,” according to the Washington Examiner. <sup>3 </sup>

New Job Opportunities for the Young

There is an inherent belief about young adults in the job market, which is that they will bounce between jobs early in their professional careers.

The average young person holds 6.3 jobs between 18 and 25, according to an earlier study from the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.

However, a study from MonsterTrak suggests that managers can address young adult needs for interesting work and opportunities to learn by utilizing organizational practices that provide a variety of job responsibilities, challenges, and training opportunities, among other benefits. <sup> 4</sup> The study adds that managers can address young adult needs for job security and opportunities for promotion by utilizing organizational practices that provide feedback about their performance, rewards for performance in the form of praise or bonuses, and linking young adults with senior organizational members for mentoring relationships.

The language in the legislation regarding allowing younger adults to drive trucks across the country suggests a significant amount of educational training for new hires. Fleet managers who are concerned about the dedication of younger truck drivers may simply need to invest a little more dedication to the newer generation of truckers.

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Preparing for Future Changes

The current struggles with retaining truck drivers, and the resulting driver shortage seen by trucking companies, is not expected to dissipate in the coming years. The increasing average age of truckers in the coming years is one major contributor to this.

“The American Transportation Research Institute projects that by 2023 (…) the industry will fall 100,000 people short of the drivers needed to replace retiring workers and handle new freight demand. That is in part because close to a third of drivers now on the road are over age 55,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

Adding to this issue, there are concerns about whether the industry will even need more truck drivers in the future as a result of the development of autonomous technology. However, even with this technological innovation, these trucks will likely still need to have someone piloting them for safety and logistical reasons.

There are also many roadblocks the industry will need to get over before autonomous trucks are commonplace, including infrastructure and legislative challenges that will likely arise.

“Currently, 24 states allow level 4 autonomous semi-truck commercial deployment. If no tragic accidents occur that result in negative publicity, and that this in turn does not cause the regulatory landscape to tighten, the year 2024 will be the start of the autonomous driving race to replace human drivers. But even in 2024, these trucks will not be running across all lanes nationwide. Rather there will be a focus on delivering across targeted lanes for select customers,” according to a report from Forbes. <sup>5 </sup>

Fleet Truck Industry Innovation

The new legislation may also spur more innovation in the industry. Indeed, by pushing forth with this new initiative, additional focus will be drawn toward other trucking industry problems, putting a spotlight on other issues trucking companies may have.

Indeed, a letter from the International Trade Administration’s Advisory Committee on Supply Chain Competitiveness that was addressed to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo suggests new ways to improve the flow of domestic goods, one of which includes a change from this new legislation.

“The department should work with DOT to remove obstacles to domestic goods movement, including but not limited to enabling under-21 commercial driver license (CDL) drivers to handle interstate commerce; addressing driver retention, training and workplace concerns within the industry; and enhancing last-mile connectivity options that connect workers with new workplace locations,” a part of the letter reads.

Sources Cited:

  1. www.wsj.com/articles/push-to-let-teens-drive-trucks-interstate-divides-the-industry-11631179801
  2. www.ttnews.com/articles/advisory-panel-urges-federal-action-driver-shortage
  3. www.washingtonexaminer.com/politics/infrastructure-bill-to-help-truck-driver-shortage
  4. www.uis.edu/career/wp-content/uploads/sites/114/2013/04/young_adults_at_work.pdf
  5. www.forbes.com/sites/stevebanker/2021/05/11/the-autonomous-truck-revolution-is-right-around-the-corner/?sh=3027b1622c96

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