Teenage Truckers Eyed as Answer to Driver Shortage. But What About Safety?

People as young as 18 could soon be driving cargo-laden big rigs across state lines.

Federal regulators and the trucking industry are hoping that a soon-to-be-launched pilot apprenticeship program for underage drivers will eventually help alleviate a severe trucker shortage that has helped hobble the nation’s supply chain. However, critics contend that the program is ill-advised and threatens highway safety.

The Killino Firm’s Truck Accident Lawyers believe the victims of inexperienced and poorly-trained drivers deserve compensation for their pain and suffering. If you or someone you love was injured or tragically killed in an 18-wheeler crash or other trucking-related accident, call our law firm toll-free at 1-877-875-2927 to speak with an attorney and learn more about your legal rights.

Apprenticeship Program Will Train Truck Drivers From 18 to 20 Years Old

A declining driver workforce has long been a problem for the nation’s trucking industry.

From 2019 to 2020, the number of truck drivers declined by about 7% to a little over three million. With the demand to move freight skyrocketing, the American Trucking Associations estimates that around 80,000 new truckers are needed to make up for the shortfall.

While nearly all states – except for Hawaii – allow drivers as young as 18 to operate commercial trucks within their borders, federal law has long mandated that interstate truck drivers be at least 21 years of age. But now, a provision in the recently-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill has tasked the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) with establishing a pilot apprenticeship program to train up to 3,000 new drivers each year from ages 18 to 20.

Underage Truckers Will Complete 400 Hours Probationary Period

The program will require participating drivers to complete 400 hours of cumulative probationary time with an experienced trucker in the passenger seat. Their trucks will also need to be outfitted with forward-facing video cameras and an active braking collision mitigation system. Underage apprentice drivers will also be required to stay under 65 miles per hour while operating their rig.

Once a driver has completed the probationary term, they’ll be able to drive solo but must be under continuous monitoring by the trucking company until they turn 21. They would also be prohibited from driving passengers, hazardous materials, or special configuration vehicles during that period.

Teens with DUI’s or traffic violations will be barred from participating.

Once launched, the pilot program will run for three years, training up to 3,000 new drivers annually. When the three-year period concludes, the FMCSA will submit a report to Congress detailing the program’s safety record, as well as a recommendation on whether underage drivers are as safe as those 21 or over. At that point, Congress could pass new laws making the program permanent.

“This program creates a rigorous safety training program, requiring an additional 400 hours of advanced safety training, in which participants are evaluated against specific performance benchmarks,” an official with the American Trucking Associations told ABC News.


Teen Drivers 3 Times More Likely to Crash

But highway safety advocates aren’t so sure.

“We think that putting one of the most dangerous driving populations — teenagers — behind the wheel of 80,000-pound trucks will imperil not only the teen truckers themselves, but everyone on the roads with them,” Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, told the New York Times.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, teen drivers aged 16-to-19 are already three times more likely to be involved in fatal accidents than those 20 and older. A significant body of research has also found that younger commercial drivers have higher crash rates than their older counterparts.

What’s more, it’s not at all clear that underage truckers will do much to ease the current driver shortage. In fact, critics assert the trucking industry actually faces a retention problem driven by low pay and difficult working conditions.

“These truckers quit because they are forced to drive ― and Department of Transportation rules allow them to drive ― for 77 hours in seven days,” Joan Claybrook, a former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and former director of the good-government group Public Citizen, told HuffPoast.com. “That’s not a life.”

U.S. Roads and Highways are Growing Increasingly Dangerous

During the first half of 2021, overall traffic deaths jumped more than 18% compared to the same period in 2021. Behavioral research conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also suggests that a significant uptick in reckless behaviors – speeding, driving while impaired, distracted driving, and failure to wear a seatbelt – was behind that surge.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened the trucking industry’s labor woes, with many seasoned truckers opting to finally leave their jobs, only to be replaced by younger, less experienced drivers. And because the FMCSA has suspended the Hours-of-Service Rules to keep supply chains moving during the pandemic, those novice truckers frequently work much longer hours, increasing the risk that they’ll experience fatigue-related crashes.

Even when the Hours-of-Service regulations were in full effect, the FMCSA’s Large Truck Causation Study found that 13% of commercial drivers were considered fatigued at the time of their crash.

Contact an Experienced Truck Accident Lawyer

Our 18-Wheeler Accident Lawyers have extensive experience representing those injured at the hands of inexperienced, reckless, and negligent truckers. Because trucking-related accidents often involve more severe injuries and multiple liable parties than a typical motor vehicle crash, you are less likely to have all of your damages covered by insurance. Our law firm has the resources and expertise to take on the trucking company attorneys and file a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit on your behalf. To learn more, please contact us for a free consultation at 1-877-875- 2927.