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February 21, 2019 6:45 PM, EST

Editorial: Searching for the Stars

A viable remedy to one of trucking’s most vexing problems is at the industry’s fingertips, but current federal law stands in the way. The problem, if you haven’t guessed, is the driver shortage. The remedy, if you haven’t guessed, is bringing younger drivers into the fold.

The prospect of permitting 18- to 21-year-olds to drive trucks interstate is not new, but it received thoughtful consideration last week at the annual Recruitment and Retention Conference, of which Transport Topics is a partner. The mission of the event — finding and keeping good talent in the industry — is one to which we’re glad to lend our participation.

Among the speakers appearing during the first of two days of presentations was a fleet owner who launched his company at the age of 19, an age at which drivers of Class 8 trucks may only travel intrastate. In his case, it meant a 30-mile trip across state lines was prohibited, while a trek of hundreds of miles within the state was lawful. We routinely hear stories like this, and they always sound illogical.

Others use stronger descriptors. In his address at the conference, American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear called the current prohibition a “ridiculous, idiotic policy” and backed proposed legislation that would create a thorough training regimen for younger drivers interested in careers in trucking.

In addition to filling a need, bringing new entrants into the industry at a younger age can engender a loyalty that could carry through a career. As one driver whose career started at the age of 23 noted, young people coming out of high school may pursue other opportunities when they realize waiting for the chance to drive interstate will take about as long as completing a four-year degree. It’s a long time to wait to get a career fully underway.

Critics say people in this age group may lack the maturity to drive interstate, but the insights of a college student TT met last year at ATA’s Management Conference & Exhibition ring as true now as they did then: those who are serious will show up and put in the work. They just need the chance.

And they’re the ones who could grow to become proud representatives of the industry. That 23-year-old is now 31 and a newly minted captain on America’s Road Team. While he acknowledged that the age limit was an obstacle, it didn’t stall his career. If the obstacle weren’t there, imagine how many more great candidates might join the industry.