Long-Haul Truck-Driving Teens: A Scary Proposal

Is a new provision allowing 18-year olds to drive interstate commercial trucks “a catastrophe waiting to happen?”

Mon August 03, 2015 - National Edition
Giles Lambertson


One provision in the current surface transportation bill would drop the interstate commercial truck driving age to 18 from 21. It is one of those issues with two appealing sides. In the end, though, the idea doesn’t pass muster.

Young men and women 18, 19 and 20 years old fight wars, marry, operate heavy construction equipment, and start online companies that make them millionaires. They are never more physically vigorous than they are at that age and are fully capable of wrestling a big rig for hours on end. Some of them are wise beyond their years.

But on average, of course, most aren’t. The U.S. Transportation Dept. says teens have fatal vehicular crashes at three times the rate of drivers 20 and older. We all know how it happens. Immaturity, inexperience, poor judgment, peer pressure—all the markers of young adults come into play when they get behind a wheel. When the wheel controls a 30-40-ton tractor-trailer rig, the consequences are scary to consider.

There are many exceptions to this, of course. Most teen drivers are in fact not killed in wrecks. Those who aren’t have many choices in their young lives and a wise choice is to wait two or three years and, well, grow up a little before applying for a CDL. A 19-year-old may handle a cattle truck perfectly on a neighbor’s ranch or nimbly navigate a construction site in the driver’s seat of an articulated dumper, but a long-haul trip across the country taxes mental and physical strength on a whole other level.

The trucking industry wants to lower the age because it has a shortage of truck drivers, and expects the shortfall to worsen. This is the same industry, you understand, that has frustrated NAFTA architects all these years by refusing to lower barriers to Mexican truck drivers delivering products in the U.S. The expressed concern is about public safety on the interstate system, a concern now dismissed in promotion of teen drivers.

A spokesman for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety says letting our youngest adults drive interstate trucks would be “a catastrophe waiting to happen.” The surface transportation bill will be better without the provision.

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