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It's impossible to work in our industry without knowing we are facing an unprecedented truck driver shortage across the nation. While this is an issue on a global scale, America is facing the largest shortage. In November, this number was nearly 80,000 truck drivers as reported by the ATA, leaving many industry professionals anxious and in search of solutions as that number continues to grow.
Luckily, one viable solution may hold some promise for the logistics industry and was just given the green light by Congress. This solution is a reduction of the age restriction on interstate truck drivers from 21 to 18.
In this article, we’ll break down this new plan, take a look at the potential benefits and drawbacks of the change, and discuss what more can be done to address the ongoing nationwide driver shortage.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced on Friday, January 14th that teenagers aged 18 or over can begin to drive trucks across state lines under the following conditions:
Furthermore, these teenage truck drivers are required to complete a probationary period in which an experienced driver accompanies them on trips until they are deemed capable of being on the road alone. This probationary period consists of a 120-hour stretch in which the driver must demonstrate competency in basic truck driving skills and associated tasks. During this probationary period, the truck they will be driving must contain all of the following which is stated in the recent FMCSA release:
Additionally, there is another 280-hour probationary period that carries the same requirements but monitors a variety of other truck driving and operation skills.
This new program could potentially open up a rather large pool of new drivers. In fact, there are vast numbers of people aged 18-20 who are already looking to begin their career in this field, and this new program may just be the "foot in the door" they need.
With some rigorous training and mentorship from experienced drivers, this is one step that can, in large part, help to address the massive truck driver shortage we are currently witnessing.
Having these younger truck drivers in the field will also serve to provide some rest for the current pool of truck drivers who are experiencing burnout and who are aging out of the workforce. By many estimates, this change in age restriction was actually a long time coming.
Perhaps the most obvious risk of this program is the chance of increased collisions and accidents. Teen drivers are in the highest risk category for being involved in an accident as compared to any other age group.
This is often chalked up to inexperience or recklessness on the part of the teen driver, as well as the tendency to drive under the influence of drugs/alcohol, travel over the speed limit, or drive while distracted.
Luckily, each of these issues is addressed through the apprenticeship program in question:
Lowering the driving age is a step, there’s no doubt about it. This will bring in tons of new, young talent who will hopefully stay in the field for many years to come.
Unfortunately, this step alone is not enough to overcome the truck driver shortage as a whole.
Two groups of potential drivers that need to be tapped into more are women and minorities. The truck driving field, despite some improvement over time, is still largely made up of caucasian men. However, there is currently a large push toward a more inclusive industry, and both women and POC are making decent headway already. We still have a long way to go, but the first steps are being taken and this focus is being adopted by more trucking companies every day.
Appealing to these individuals may require some new safety measures being put into place, as some people in these groups have reported feelings of unease while driving, especially while traveling at night and having to stop at rest areas.
Perhaps one of the most challenging hurdles to overcome is the nature of truck driving itself. The work takes drivers away from their families and friends for long stretches of time. Granted, the job pays well, but in the current climate of workers who love the idea of having home offices, it can be difficult to entice people towards the truck driving field. Incentivizing these positions further and in ways that appeal to the demographic being targeted can go a long way in convincing would-be truck drivers to at least give it a try.
And for those who still aren't able to do long-hauls or be away from home for days at a time, many supply chains are focusing on more regional ecosystems. This, in turn, could mean more truck driving positions closer to home and routes that stay within a specific distance from or within that region.
There are many reasons to be hopeful about the new age requirements and the teenage truck drivers apprenticeship program that was recently implemented. These changes will lead to fantastic improvements in the number of available truckers.
That being said, this step alone will not be enough to overcome the current truck driver shortage. We still have a ways to go before we can safely say that we have a sufficient number of truck drivers on the road.