Big Rig Driver Shortage Fuels Effort to Hire 18-Year-Olds

Technically, an 18-year-old driver in North Carolina could obtain a full provisional license that would allow them to drive unsupervised at any time. Still, these novice drivers are subject to a one-year driver’s license suspension if they drop out of school or even just get suspended for 10 days or more.
But a new bill would allow those same drivers to operate 40-ton trucks with 18-wheels overnight and across state lines.

The provision is written into part of a larger bill being weighed by the U.S. Senate in response to an apparent truck driver shortage. With the Baby Boom generation rounding out the end of their careers, the trucking industry is staring down a deficit of 250,000 drivers nationwide by 2017.

As it now stands, 18-year-old drivers are allowed to drive big rigs in 48 states. However, federal law prohibits anyone under the age of 21 from operating a commercial vehicle across state lines. The biggest concern, of course, is safety.

Novice drivers are known to have the highest rate of traffic accident fatalities and injuries. In fact, 18- to 20-year-old drivers are four-to-six times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than their older counterparts. Young males in particular are especially at risk. Inexperience puts them at a major disadvantage to operating passenger vehicles. The new bill would give them a green light to operate not just commercial trucks, but also commercial buses (carrying passengers) and other large vehicles.

Even if a reputable carrier insists on extensive training for young drivers, an 18-year-old is still an 18-year-old regardless.

Many companies have complained that the cost of shipments has increased between 3 and 5 percent over the last year, and this is largely attributed to the trucking shortage. It’s understandable they’d want to find a way to lower costs. However, putting younger drivers in charge of 80,000-pound trucks or 50-passenger buses isn’t the answer.

Consider that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration estimates the average injury resulting from a truck accident costs about $342,000. The average cost of a fatal accident is $7.9 million, with most of that cost born by the family of the decedent.

Now consider that in 2013, drivers between the ages of 18 to 20 had a fatal crash involvement rate that was 66 percent higher per 100,000 licensed drivers compared to drivers over the age of 21. That’s according to the U.S. Transportation Department’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System.

Even some of those within the trucking industry call the idea “horrible.” One trucker described to NPR the intensity and stress of the job. There is an enormous demand to make sure shipments arrive on time or early. But traffic can result in delays, as can bad weather and other elements out of the driver’s control. He or she must have the wisdom and the discipline to still abide by all relevant traffic laws, weight limits and hours of service statutes. Younger drivers, he feared, would be more likely to take dangerous risks to make sure the job gets done.

Yet, the measure is still on the table as a provision of a larger transportation bill. Congress is expected to pick the issue back up when they return from summer recess.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
To Get Big-Rig Drivers, Senate Bill Would Give Keys To Teens, July 31, 2015, By Chris Arnold, NPR

More Blog Entries:
Nat’l Am. Ins. Co. v. Artisan & Truckers Cas. Co. – Insurance Coverage in Truck Accident, Aug. 15, 2015, Charlotte Truck Accident Attorney Blog

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