Will Teen Truckers Ease Supply Chain Shortages, or Make Roads Less Safe?

Will Teen Truckers Ease Supply Chain Shortages, or Make Roads Less Safe?The trucking industry needs more drivers. There are many reasons why there is a shortage of drivers. It is a lonely job that takes drivers away from their families for days or weeks at a time. Driving can be quite monotonous, so it’s easy to get bored or distracted. It’s also difficult to drive a truck – the cargo constantly shifts, there are blind spots, and trucks are prone to rollovers and jackknifes. Some truck drivers worry that their jobs may be replaced by autonomous trucks. As such, many truck drivers are retiring or choosing less strenuous jobs.

The pandemic has only increased the demand for truck drivers. Most people stayed at home during the pandemic requiring more and more products to be delivered to their doors. The supply chain difficulties have added a new complication. With the backup of inventory at loading docks, more truck drivers are needed to make deliveries at a time when there are fewer drivers all around.

To encourage more young people to apply for a CDL, the federal government, according to ABC News, is implementing an apprentice program targeted at younger drivers. Congress initiated the program as part of the bipartisan infrastructure law that became effective on November 15, 2021. The law required that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), an agency managed by the US Department of Transportation, begin the program by January 15, 2022.

How does the new program work?

The program would permit drivers aged 18-20 years of age to drive trucks outside their home states provided they don’t have any DUI violations or prior traffic violations for causing an accident, per the request of the FMCSA. It also requires a probationary period where an experienced driver comes along for the ride, and that trucks have “an electronic braking crash mitigation system, a forward facing video camera,” and that drivers go no faster than 65mph.

Once the probation period is complete, the drivers can work without having another driver in their truck. The trucking companies that hire these young drivers must still monitor their driving performance until the driver turns 21. (As a practical matter, trucking companies should regularly monitor the performance records of all the drivers – of any age.) The federal program does limit the program to 3,000 apprentices at any given time. The FMCSA will reach out to carriers that have “excellent safety records” to partake in the program.

The federal apprenticeship program will run for three years. The FMCSA has to provide Congress with a report as to the safety record of these younger drivers. The FMCSA must also make a recommendation about how the safety record of these younger drivers compares to drivers 21 and older. Congress will then evaluate the program and decide whether to implement any new programs.

The apprenticeship program is just one measure the current Presidential administration is reviewing to respond to the trucking shortage and to improve the working conditions for the truck drivers. Almost every state already permits drivers under 21 to drive semis, but these younger drivers can only drive within the state where they are licensed – not across state lines.

Supporters of the young truck driver regulations

The American Trucking Association (ATA), a trucking industry trade organization, favors the program to address the current shortage of drivers. The ATA estimates that the trucking industry shortfall is about 80,000 drivers short – and worsening as the demand for freight increases.

Opponents of the new truck apprentice program

Opponents of the program are concerned that there is too much data demonstrating that younger drivers don’t have the maturity to drive commercially. The opponents claim that many teenage drivers are involved in car and truck accidents at higher rates compared to older drivers. Peter Kurdock, general counsel for Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety, says that federal statistics show that teenage drivers crash more than older drivers. He is concerned that, “putting them behind the wheel of trucks that can weigh up to 40 tons when loaded increases the possibility of mass casualty crashes.” Kurdock worries that the trucking industry will use “skewed data” from the apprenticeship program to push for more young truck drivers across the country.

This concern is compounded by the unique dangers of truck driving. Trucks are much heavier, longer, wider, and taller than cars. When trucks and cars collide, the occupants of the car are often lucky to survive. Many victims either die, or live with catastrophic injuries that cause a lifetime of pain and suffering.

At Bailey & Greer, PLLC, we understand how dangerous truck accidents are. We worry that younger, less experienced truckers may not have the skills or training to deal with a defective part or a tire blowout. We also have concerns about distracted driving, as data shows that younger drivers are more likely to engage in this dangerous behavior than older drivers. This poses a risk to everyone, including the young truck drivers.

At Bailey & Greer, PLLC, our seasoned Memphis truck accident lawyers fight to ensure truck accident injury victims receive all the economic losses, personal suffering, and property damage losses they deserve. We represent the families of loved ones who die in trucking accident collisions. To schedule a consultation at our office in Memphis or Jackson, call us at 901-475-7434 or fill out our contact form. Our seasoned personal injury lawyers handle truck accident cases on a contingency fee basis.