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Teens may be the solution to ongoing driver shortage

The age requirement for drivers may soon be lowered.
/ Industry News & Trends /

By: Phil Sneed

Demand for freight transportation continues to exceed supply within the trucking industry, according to the latest report from the Cass Truckload Linehaul Index. 

The report indicated rates for hauling cargo increased throughout June. Per-mile truckload rates rose 3.6 percent. June 2015 represents another month in which rates experienced a positive development following. For the rest of 2015, it's expected the Cass Index will see mid to high growth, which may represent an increase of  between 4 and 9 percent for the rest of the year. According to The Wall Street Journal, freight rates are starting to flatten out after space on trucks has slightly expanded.

Those within the industry know far too well the driver shortage trucking companies are currently dealing with. There may be some relief in sight. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Donald Broughton, of Avondale Partners, said trucking companies have been changing their methods to reduce shortages after being dramatically overbooked in June 2014.

"Per-mile truckload rates increased 3.6 percent."

Driver openings have attracted workers who used to be in the oil industry, but have been looking for work as that industry dried up. Broughton told The Journal trucking companies have invested in new semi-trailers, hired more drivers and increased pay so existing drivers have more incentive to continue hauling items across the U.S. Companies may actually be saving money due to upgraded fleets, as new equipment spends less time in repair shops.

However, the driver shortage is still far from solved. As July comes to a close, developments in Washington D.C. may have a large impact on the future of the industry.

The current minimum age for interstate truck drivers is 21. The last day of the month signals the deadline for Congress to pass a highway funding solution. As is the political culture, multiple proposals are floating around, and one in particular is noteworthy. Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe introduced the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy. Not only would the DRIVE Act fund highways, but according to Fortune, it would also lower the commercial driving age to 18.

The age requirement provisional change was actually proposed by Nebraska Senator Deb Fischer, who said many states already allow 18 year olds to drive commercial freight. American Trucking Association President and CEO Bill Graves agreed in a press release, citing overlapping laws. This means an 18 year old can get his or her commercial driving license and drive within the state, but cannot cross state borders until the age of 21

"It is illogical that a 20-year-old can drive the 500 miles from San Francisco to San Diego, but not the eight miles from Memphis, Tennessee to West Memphis, Arkansas – or simply cross the street in Texarkana," said Graves.

Opponents argue against changes
Teenage drivers in the 18 to 20 age range are 66 percent more likely to get in an accident than drivers 21 and over. The statistics come from the U.S. Transportation Department's Fatality Analysis Reporting System, and while they highlight risks, they also show accident rates have been declining. Some, such as Jackie Gillan – president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety – told The Associated Press that a multitude of factors, such as transporting 80,000 pounds of items and potentially driving 82 hours a week, is harmful.

"The combination of inexperience, high-risk driving and large trucks can cause unbelievable devastation," said Gillan.

Labor unions have also voiced concerns. Interestingly enough, 10 years ago, President George W. Bush's administration looked into lowering the driving age to 18. Public backlash persuaded the administration to stop pursuing the idea, however.

Benefits of change
There are certain provisions within the proposal to protect young drivers, should the age requirement be lowered. The AP said teenagers would be prohibited from operating overweight loads and transporting hazardous material.

"Teens would be prohibited from transportating overweight and hazordous material."

A younger driving age would alleviate ongoing shortage. The industry is looking at a shortage of approximately 100,000 drivers, as this factors in the current shortage plus drivers leaving for others jobs and retirement, according to the AP. The age requirement also takes a career path away for individuals who choose to work right after high school instead of going to college, ATA chief economist Bob Costello told Fortune.

"We're missing a lot of people. If you go to a trucking training school today, you'll see people in their early thirties," said Costello.

The legislation, if passed, would open up new opportunities for younger drivers and enable them to gain driving experience required for intermodal freight transportation.

There is no denying a driver shortage exists. As demand continues to pick up, companies and politicians are attempting to solve the issue. Lowering the driving age may help, but the DRIVE Act is currently awaiting a vote in the Senate, ahead of the July 31 deadline for highway funding.