Legislation has been introduced in the Senate to study the viability of allowing truck drivers under the age of 21 to operate in interstate commerce.
Currently, in the lower 48 states, an individual can obtain a commercial driver's license at the age of 18 but can only operate a vehicle in the state where the license is issued. Under the Commercial Driver Act, introduced Wednesday by Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., contiguous states could enter into interstate compacts for drivers under the age of 21 to operate across state lines. Participating states would provide minimum licensure standards acceptable for interstate travel, under the bill. The bill also would seek to expand the pool of eligible truck drivers and establish truck driving career opportunities for recent high school graduates.
The bill is designed to open up the truck driving market to those under the age of 21 who are closed off from driving in interstate commerce and may in the meantime pursue other career opportunities. The trucking industry is expected to struggle with a worsening driver shortage and needs to open up as many avenues of recruitment as possible.
The American Trucking Associations (ATA), a trade group representing large for-hire fleets, estimates the current driver shortage at 35,000 to 40,000. However, because of retirements and individuals leaving the industry, nearly 100,000 drivers a year will need to be recruited over the next decade just to keep pace with the country's freight needs, the group said.
In a statement, ATA hailed the measure. "It is illogical that a 20-year-old can drive the 500 miles from San Francisco to San Diego, but not the 8 miles from Memphis, Tenn., to West Memphis, Ark.," said Bill Graves, the group's president and CEO. "Even more illogical is that a 20-year-old may not drive a truck in any state if the cargo in it originated outside the state or will eventually leave the state by some other means."
Graves also applauded Fischer's effort to create more jobs for high school graduates, a group that suffers unemployment rates up to triple the national average.
"We know younger drivers can operate safely hauling freight within their respective states, but the Commercial Driver Act takes a step toward showing they can safely cross state lines as well," he said in the statement.