Truck Driver Shortage Prompts Pilot Program to Test Teen Commercial Drivers on Public Roads

The trucking industry has become known for its aggressive lobbying tactics, and for supporting regulatory rollbacks and new rules that allow commercial trucking operators to increase profits at the expense of public safety. This includes recent amendments to drop testing of commercial drivers with conditions like sleep apnea (which makes them more likely to crash), and efforts to pass laws that increase vehicle weight limits, terminate certain Hours-of-Service requirements regarding mandatory driver rest breaks, and reduce the federal age limit for commercial drivers from 21 to 18. With a recent announcement from federal regulators, younger truckers may soon be a common site on our roads.

This month, officials from the DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced that they are preparing to launch a pilot program that would test out teen commercial drivers on public roads. Here are few important details about what it involves:

  • Under the FMCSA’s pilot program, drivers between 18 and 20 will be able to drive commercial trucks and vehicles across state lines. Currently, only drivers 21 and older can operate trucks for interstate commerce.
  • Only drivers who have military experience and training in certain occupational specialists will be allowed to participate in the program.
  • The pilot program will include policies that require young drivers to complete a 240-hour apprentice driving program where they may only drive with veteran CDL holders and may not exceed 65 mph.
  • The program is intended to roll out later this year.

The announcement has received a great deal of attention, in part because proposed laws to reduce the federal commercial driver age limit have long been supported by the trucking industry since the start of a chronic shortage. In fact, reducing the age limit has been one of the industry’s top solutions for addressing the trucker shortage problem, which is expected to reach nearly 65,000 drivers this year. That’s equal to roughly one commercial tractor-trailer per every 12 cargo loads, the lowest ratio in 15 years.

While it may seem like a reasonable solution to the commercial trucking operators and companies that want to keep up with a rising demand for transportation of consumer goods, the proposed age limit reduction has faced harsh scrutiny from public safety advocates who argue that it puts the public at risk while allowing major corporations to profit from cheap labor. Additionally, they cite statistics like those from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which show that teen drivers are approximately 3 times more likely to fatally crash than drivers who are 20 or older.

In response to these arguments, proponents and the trucking industry have pointed to the safety apprentice driving policy requiring young drivers to first train with more experienced drivers. They also commonly argue that 18-year-olds are currently allowed to operate commercial vehicles, though within state borders, in many states across the country.

Trucking Regulations & Public Safety

As a personal injury and workers’ compensation law firm that fights for victims across Chicago and the state of Illinois, our legal team at Leonard Law Group knows how crucially important trucking regulations are to protecting the public and ensuring commercial operators take the necessary steps to reduce risks of serious truck accidents. Over the years, we’ve represented many victims of truck accidents, including drivers of passenger vehicles hit by truckers and truck drivers themselves, and are well aware of the devastating and often life-altering damage these massive machines can cause.

Because commercial trucks pose such overwhelming dangers on our roads, we know it is important for advocates, lawmakers, and the public to keep apprised of trucking industry efforts fueled by money and potential profits rather than any concern for public safety. Just because the status quo may allow teens to get behind the wheel of trucks in some states doesn’t mean it should be preserved and strengthened across the board. That’s what many safety advocates will continue to focus on as they track the new pilot program and prepare to fight efforts for implementing the regulatory change nationwide.

Fighting for Truck Accident Victims

Although trucking regulations have been prone to change, there are still numerous laws that apply to trucking operators and drivers and make them responsible for taking appropriate safety measures. When commercial trucking companies or their employees fail to abide by these laws or act negligently, and cause harm as a result, injured victims and families have every right to pursue justice and compensation for their damages.

At Leonard Law Group, our Chicago injury attorneys are available to help victims injured in all types of truck accidents and work vehicle accidents explore their rights when it comes to the personal injury or workers’ compensation process. If you wish to discuss a potential case with an attorney from our firm, contact us for a free consultation.

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