It’s hard not to notice the number of trucks sharing the California highways and local roads with us. Maybe it’s the increase in online shopping that has put more tractor-trailers on the road – sending goods from warehouse to delivery hub, which then loads packages onto residential delivery trucks.
This anecdotal increase in trucks comes at a time when executives in the trucking industry fear a driver shortage. That has led some people, including politicians, to think that maybe it’s time to allow younger drivers to take the wheels of big trucks.
For years, laws have required truck drivers who cross state lines to be at least 21. Many states allow drivers 18 to 20 to drive heavy trucks only in their own state, not on interstate highways.
In the Obama administration, a pilot program called the FAST Act – short for Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act – was enacted. The program waives the minimum age rules for cross-country truckers, provided they are military personnel. Other proposals have floated in Washington that would allow drivers ages 18 to 20 to travel cross-country if they have extra training and they drive vehicles outfitted with certain safety equipment.
The proposals haven’t gained much traffic, but a spokesman for the American Trucking Associations said he was hopeful it would increase the pool of drivers.
On the other hand, safety advocates say putting a big rig in the hands of a teenager is a bad idea, no matter what training or safety gear the young drivers have.
According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, in 2014-15, drivers between 16 and19 were involved in fatal passenger crashes 30 percent more often than drivers 20 through 24. Their crash rate was 40 percent higher than drivers 25 to 29, then more than double that of drivers 30 and older.
At least for now, federal officials are approaching the idea of putting younger drivers on the road slowly.
While the rules haven’t changed, we always need to be cautious of big rigs on the road, no matter what age the driver. After all, according to the National Safety Council, large trucks accounted for 4 percent of vehicles on the road in 2013 and 9 percent of the fatal crashes.