A New York congresswoman has introduced legislation that would expand a pilot program to allow individuals between the ages of 18 and 21 without military experience to drive in interstate commerce if they possesses a commercial driver license, clean driving record and appropriate Department of Transportation training certification.
The Waiving Hindrances to Economic Enterprise and Labor Act, or WHEEL, introduced by Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.), would broaden the potential pool of young drivers by amending the federal FAST Act, which limited the pilot program to candidates with military truck driving experience. The program, announced in 2016 by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, was the first to allow young drivers to operate in interstate commerce.
Tenney’s bill is intended to help the trucking industry plug a massive driver shortage by expanding the pool of potential drivers that could enter the profession at a younger age. Drivers under the age of 21 are currently not permitted to cross state lines but are permitted to drive trucks intrastate.
The aim of the pilot program is to compare the safety record of the younger drivers sponsored by a participating carrier with a control group of drivers 21 and older to determine whether age is a critical safety factor.
“Over the next decade, the trucking industry will need to hire 890,000 new drivers, taking into account retirement and retention issues, coupled with increased freight volume and demand,” American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear said in letter of support to Tenney. “These numbers are startling and exacerbated by the fact that while 48 states currently allow 18-year-old CDL holders to drive intrastate commerce, they are prevented from driving interstate commerce across state borders until the age of 21 at the earliest, which impairs the industry’s ability to recruit and retain young talent.”
In a statement Tenney said the WHEEL Act is a common-sense measure that would ease the burden on truck operators by sensibly expanding the interstate truck driving pilot program authorized by the FAST Act, while maintaining strong standards for participants.
“The trucking industry moves most of our nation’s freight tonnage and is vital to the health of our economy,” Tenney said in a statement. “However, by 2024, estimates suggest that the shortage throughout the country could be as many as 175,000 unfilled driving positions.”
The bill has been referred to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s Subcommittee on Highways and Transit.