Many carriers are looking to address the driver shortage issue by recruiting from untapped pools of talent, such as women. Young people graduating high school comprise another such pool. But while all 50 states allow 18-year-olds to acquire a CDL license, federal law prohibits anyone under 21 from driving commercial routes interstate. That rule creates a challenging situation to employ 18-to-21-year-old truck drivers.
The problem is not just that this one age group is excluded. By the time someone interested in a trucking career turns 21, he or she usually has the beginnings of a career in hand—a career in something other than long-haul trucking. Trucking can’t compete fairly against other career paths for talent because federal law regulates young talent to enter their profession three years later.
Congress is considering lifting the ban against young interstate drivers and studying the possibility of having 18-year olds driving heavy trucks with a pilot program. But the subject is controversial. Concerns from safety groups have mounted, including the Truck Safety Coalition, stating that in addition to having higher crash risks, teen drivers do not have the experience necessary to safely operate trucks.
One possibility for training is to institute a program similar to the graduated license programs for younger teens learning to drive a car. Typically, these programs create a middle stage between a learner’s permit and a full license in which the teen may drive unsupervised but only during certain hours and without teen passengers. Some require the teen to turn 18 before getting the unrestricted license. Such programs do seem to reduce fatal car accidents for teen drivers, especially when combined with other restrictions, such as the loss of the license if the teen is ever found with alcohol. Although the details of a graduated CDL might have to be a little different, the principle of easing young people into the driver’s seat has promise to combat the driver shortage problem.
According to a recent economic news release from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment number among youth 16 to 24 years old has increased by 2.1 million between April to July of this year. With so many eager young people entering America’s workforce, the trucking industry can use this energy to implement new vocational training for recent high school grads and help open the door into a career in trucking.
Some in the industry want to go even farther by reaching out to young teens and even children. Many kids are fascinated by big trucks and they may like to hear about how they can have an opportunity to drive one someday. A dream planted early could lead to a career later down the line.
*About the author: Oswaldo Flores is a member of Teletrac's marketing team. He is an expert in product management in the transportation sector for the United States and Mexico.