Trucks move more than 70% of the freight in the United States, accounting for over 670 billion dollars in commerce.
One would think that given how many driving jobs there must be in the trucking industry as a result, a sizeable population of Americans will want to apply for CDLs (Commercial Driver Licenses), knowing there’s enormous job security in this line of work.
Alas, that’s not true!
The trucking industry is short by at least 50,000 drivers at this time, and that number is expected to climb as older drivers retire out of the workforce.
In such a scenario, groups like the ATA (American Trucking Associations) have been lobbying for the federal mandate of 21-or-older to be lowered to 18.
There are arguments both for and against such a move.
Agencies like OOIDA (Owner Operator’s Independent Driver Association), which strongly oppose the lowering of age limit, point to safety concerns when allowing younger CDL licensed drivers to operate heavy-duty freight vehicles on public roads. Others exhibit data that claim that commercial drivers under the age of 20 are four to six times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than those that are older. Still others in this thought group maintain that fixing the staggering turnover rate in the trucking industry with better salaries and improved work conditions will attract more and more people to driving jobs and lowering the age limit wouldn’t be necessary at all for interstate freight transport.
On the flip side, groups lobbying to lower the age limit, use ground realities in the trucking industry to support their case.
For example, wait time.
Many high-school graduates with trucking aspirations are forced to abandon their goal of joining the industry because they have to wait until they’re 21 to apply. In the interim, they take up another trade, and go on to be become plumbers, or electricians or whatever else because they are not going to college and need to start making a salary.
As a result, the 21-year-old age limit reduces the number of applicants drastically, and the industry as a whole loses out on competent applicants who could potentially have made excellent drivers in the future.
When it comes to CDL age requirements for driving intrastate, states govern their own regulations, and a majority of them have already relaxed the age limit. (Alabama is the latest state in continental US to lower minimum age for CDL to 18.)
Here is a current list of states that already allow younger CDL holders to drive within state limits:
Maine (non-hazardous at 16)
But it is the matter of interstate regulations that is the bone of contention, and this impasse is currently back in the news as a bipartisan effort has reintroduced legislation in the US Senate and House of Representatives that would allow 18-year-old drivers to operate heavy-duty trucks in interstate commerce.
The Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy (DRIVE-Safe) Act, if passed, would create an apprenticeship program where CDL holders under the age of 21 would be trained in high safety and performance standards before stepping actively into interstate commerce.
ATA is an enthusiastic member of the DRIVE Safe Act Coalition along with over 40 other national trade associations and companies that support the passage of this bill.
Will it happen?
Only time will tell. Watch this space for more news on CDL age restrictions as events develop.