Should teenagers drive interstate? While eighteen, nineteen, and twenty year olds can currently operate under a commercial driver's licenses within a state, federal regulations prevent truck drivers under the age of 21 to drive across state lines. That would change with the DRIVE-Safe Act formally known as the Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy Act. The Act is in response to the driver shortage, with supporters hoping this will increase the number of potential employees and put more trucks on the road.
For areas such as New England, where a state can border as many as five other states (as is the case in MA), the DRIVE-Safe Act could have a major impact. We break down what the Act actually says about drivers under 21 operating commercially between states, pros and cons, and what other organizations think about the Act.
What the DRIVE-Safe Act actually says
The Act would mandate that drivers with their commercial driver's license (CDL) younger than 21 could drive interstate as an apprentice. They must complete 120 hours of on-duty time, and at least less 80 of those hours must be driving time in a commercial motor vehicle. After they've completed 120 hours, they must then complete 280 hours of on-duty time, and at least 160 hours of that time must be driving time in a commercial motor vehicle. For both of these periods, the apprentice driver must have an experienced driver in the cab.
Throughout both the 120 and 280 hour probationary periods, apprentices have to meet thirteen benchmarks. The first, 120 hour probationary period requires apprentices to meet the following benchmarks:
- Interstate, city traffic, rural 2-lane, and evening driving
- Safety awareness
- Speed and space management
- Lane control
- Mirror scanning
- Right and left turns
- Logging and complying with rules relating to hours of service
The second, 280 hour probationary period requires apprentices to complete the following benchmarks:
- Backing and maneuvering in close quarters
- Pre-trip inspections
- Fueling procedures
- Weighing loads, weight distribution, and sliding tandems
- Coupling and uncoupling procedures
- Trip planning, truck routes, map reading, navigation, and permits
An experienced driver is defined as someone older than 21, who has held a CDL for the last two years, has had no preventable accidents reportable to the Department of Transportation or pointed moving violations during the 1-year period ending, and has at least 2 years of experience driving a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce. An apprentice may not drive without an experienced driver for either of the probationary periods.
Why it should pass
Young drivers are already on the road. All of the 48 continental states allow eighteen year-olds to obtain a CDL and drive within the state. Alaska has an age limit of 19 years old. Hawaii is the only state requiring individuals turn 21 before they can obtain their CDL. If you think the DRIVE Safe Act would prevent younger drivers from obtaining their CDL, this isn't technically true. They can still obtain their CDL, but they may be a less desirable hire than someone 21 or older who can drive across state lines.
Not all states are created equal. An eighteen year old driver in Alabama can currently drive just over 66 miles on I-10 in Alabama, the most dangerous road for truckers in the US, but an eighteen year old driver in New Hampshire can't do the 49 mile drive from Nashua to Boston. New England has an area of 71, 922 square miles and is composed of six states. In comparison, the entire state of Washington is 77,116 square miles. Sixteen states in the US have an area larger than that of New England.
According to the American Transportation Research Institute's (ATRI) Predicting Truck Crash Involvement: 2018 Update, drivers aged 20-24 have below average convictions for failing to obey traffic signs, improper lane change violations, improper turn violations, and fall below average for disqualified driver violations. One of the most important conclusions from the ATRI's Predicting Truck Crash Involvement: 2018 Update is that, "Age did not have a statistically significant relationship with events that had the largest impact on future crash risk – reckless driving violations (114% increase), and failure to yield right of way violations (101% increase)" (emphasis added). ATRI's research on truck crash involvement does not support the conclusion that younger drivers would drive recklessly and fail to yield, increasing likelihood of crashes.
Why it should fail
The main reason for the the DRIVE Safe Act is to increase the candidate pool for the trucking industry. However, not all is as it seems with the driver shortage. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics recently did an in-depth analysis of trucking employment and concluded that there is no shortage of drivers. In fact, driver retention doesn't even seem to be a problem for the industry and migration to other occupations is comparable to other fields. The DRIVE Safe Act is in response to the so-called driver shortage, but without a real shortage, one has to ask if perhaps this Act is unnecessary?
An analysis done by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration published in 2017 looked at crash data from 944 drivers of large trucks. They found that years of experience matter. For drivers of large trucks, having fewer than five years of experience increases the likelihood of the truck driver being the critical reason behind the crash by 17% when compared to truck drivers with five or more years of experience. An eighteen year-old driver cannot have five years of large truck driving experience.
Data on fatal crash involvement from the National Highway Safety Administration, which looks at all drivers rather than just truck drivers, consistently shows that younger drivers are more likely to be involved in fatal crashes. The National Highway Safety Administration (NHSA) reports that for 2017, the involvement rate for drivers in fatal crashes was highest for the 16-20 age group, with a rate of 35.59%, followed by the 21-24 age group which had a rate of 34.87%. When looking at data from 2017 for all types of crashes, the involvement rate for those in the 16-20 age group was again highest at 0.83% followed by 21-24 at 0.70%. Looking at all reports available online from the NHSA, the involvement rate for drivers in fatal crashes is highest for the 16-20 age group in all years starting in 2010 except for 2013 when it is virtually identical to the involvement rate for the 20-24 age group (32.00% for 16-20 vs 32.21% for 20-24).
According to the ATRI's Predicting Truck Crash Involvement: 2018 Update, drivers between the age of 20-24 have the highest conviction rate of any age group with just over 13% compared to the industry average of just over 9%. Drivers with convictions are 43% more likely to be in a crash when compared to others. Drivers in this age group are also more likely to have convictions for speeding when compared to other age groups. This age group also has the most convictions for driving too fast for conditions, according to the Predicting Truck Crash Involvement: 2018 Update.
Know of more research on young drivers? Leave us a comment and let us know!
Data on large truck fatalities from the National Highway Safety Administration shows fatalities are low throughout New England. Most counties are in the lower third for large truck fatalities per 100,000 residents when compared to all US counties. All counties in MA had between 1-5 large truck fatalities in 2017. The same is true for NH, VT, and ME. No county in CT had more than 15 large truck fatalities but six out of eight counties had between 1-5. RI has one county with zero fatalities, one with 1-5, and one with 6-15.
Across New England, those interesting in driving commercially intra or interstate must complete vision tests, meet citizenship/residency requirements, but attending a driving school for commercial vehicles is not required by any state. In all states other than Maine, you must be at least 18 to obtain your CDL. Currently, to obtain your CDL within the state of Massachusetts, drivers that are at least 18 and have their passenger driver's license must obtain their commercial driver's permit and then complete a general knowledge test and road test plus any endorsements (hazmat, etc.) in order to receive their CDL. In New Hampshire, drivers must also obtain their permit first, and then complete the knowledge and road test. For the state of Rhode Island, no learner's permit is necessary. In the state of Maine, driver's must only be 16 to operate intrastate, must first apply for their learner's permit, and then must complete the knowledge and road tests. In Connecticut, drivers must also apply for their learner's permit before completing the knowledge and road tests.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is open to the idea of drivers operating between states under the age of 21. They have started a pilot program for qualified military members and veterans called Under 21 Military CDL Pilot Program designed to increase the number of commercial drivers on the road. Regardless of whether or not the DRIVE Safe Act passes, drivers under the age of 21 may still be driving commercially across state lines.
Who's for the Act and who's against?
A member of the DRIVE Safe Act Coalition, the American Trucking Association is obviously in support of the Act. You can also find their Myth vs. Fact document explaining some of the reasons they believe the Act should pass.
A Harris Poll of over two thousand Americans found the majority support legislation allowing those under 21 to driver interstate.
The International Foodservice Distributors Association also supports the Act.
The National Association of Truck Stop Operators supports the act.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has pointed out that statistically younger drivers are unsafe and that there is no driver shortage. They urge legislators to vote against the Drive Safe Act.
The Truck Safety Coalition is against the Act and has published a letter explaining why here.
The National Safety Council believes all commercial motor vehicles, including tractor trailers and buses, should only be operated by drivers 21 and older. You can read their statement here.
The DRIVE Safe Act would require substantial training for drivers under the age of 21 to operate across state lines, but it is not supported by all trucking and safety organizations. In terms of safety, research conflicts on whether younger truck drivers are more dangerous than older ones, but the overall image seems to be that experience and older drivers, especially those older than 25, are safer drivers with lower crash rates. There's also the fact that the DRIVE Safe Act was created in response to a driver shortage that doesn't exist. Regardless, commercial truck drivers under 21 are already on the roads, operating within state lines, and more will soon be on the road with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration program investigating the impact of allowing certain members of the military to drive commercial vehicles across state lines. For New England, where states are small and border many other states, the Act could have a serious impact for young drivers, but we'll let you take in all of the above considerations and make your own decision.