I grew up in rural Pennsylvania. Nothing but farm land in all directions. My town had one traffic light, and it was a blinking light. So pretty sedate.
One afternoon while driving home from school, I stopped at the light, looked both ways, and made a right turn onto the quiet road that would take me home. Seconds later I slammed, nose first, into a ditch at the side of the road.
Driving conditions were perfect. I wasn’t speeding. The road was straight as a board. And this is long before cell phones or satellite radio could distract me.
So why did I slam my perfectly good car into a ditch?
Because I was 18.
My mind temporarily went on vacation and, in that instant, I paid for it – literally and figuratively.
Right now, Congress is considering legislation to create a pilot program that would study lowering the commercial driver’s license age for tractor trailers to 18. As a logistics industry veteran, I understand the commercial pressure created by the driver shortage, which is predicted to get only worse as older drivers retire. But we need to explore other options before making our roadways less safe and allowing 18-year-old truck drivers.
We need more drivers, but at what cost?
The American Trucking Association (ATA) is backing this legislation. Few organizations are bigger advocates for truck safety than ATA, but on this issue I think they’re wrong.
Consider these facts, shared in a USA Today editorial:
- On an average day in the USA, large trucks are involved in nearly 10 fatal crashes.
- The death toll rose every year from 2009 through 2013, the most recent year for which data are available.
- In the majority of fatal accidents involving big rigs, occupants of the smaller vehicle died.
- The fatal crash rate for 18- to 20-year-old drivers is more than double the rate for drivers 21 and older (No wonder two of the nation’s largest rental car companies, Enterprise and Hertz, generally do not rent to anyone younger than 21).
- Research by The Insurance Institute, a non-profit safety advocacy group, says that young drivers overestimate their skills, underestimate risk on the road, are more likely to speed and engage in other risky habits, and are less likely to know how to respond correctly to hazards.
18-year-old truck drivers: It’s not business, it’s personal
The ATA correctly points out that current rules regulating interstate runs for younger drivers are illogical. Said ATA President and CEO Bill Graves, “A young adult could drive a truck from El Paso, Texas to Dallas – a distance of more than 600 miles – but couldn’t cross the street to deliver that same load from Texarkana, Texas to Texarkana, Ark.”
Yep, get it. That makes no sense. Furthermore, the business arguments for putting more 18-year-old truck drivers on the road are absolutely compelling.
It’s just hard for me, and I think many others, not to assess this issue in very personal terms. I worry about putting my kids’ lives, and other innocent lives, at risk. The evidence, and common sense, suggest that our roadways will be less safe with more 18-year-olds driving 80,000 pound vehicles at 70 miles an hour trying to hit their next delivery window.