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September 17, 2018 10:45 AM, EDT

Opinion: A Sensible Way to Lower the CDL Age Requirement

With the driver shortage still proving costly for trucking operations, there is renewed interest in lowering the legal driving age to earn a commercial driver license for interstate travel.

For interstate carriers, allowing younger drivers to earn a CDL would vastly widen the pool of drivers and limit the loss of candidates to other careers. And that’s why some legislators are seeking a solution.

Laura McMillan

McMillan

Recently, for example, the Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy Act (DRIVE-Safe) bill proposed additional training requirements for 18- to 20-year-old drivers who would then be able drive across state lines in heavy trucks outfitted with certain safety equipment, including speed limiters. It’s also why federal regulators are cautiously studying the safety impact of lowering the age requirement for interstate truck drivers. Those efforts include a program run by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), in which participating trucking companies would collect and compare safety data on a control group of 200 experienced drivers ages 21 through 24 and 200 active or reserve military personnel under age 21 with heavy truck driving experience earned in the service.

If the licensing of 18- to 20-year-olds to drive heavy-duty trucks interstate does become a reality, it’s going to be especially important to put in place age-appropriate and focused training. Younger drivers require a different type of training, one that is more interactive rather than classroom-based and passive. For the industry, the key to success will be to provide training for younger drivers that is presented in an engaging manner, and designed to capture their interest and boost their retention of the material.

Courses already in place that meet the FMCSA Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT) standards that take effect in 2020 are designed to connect with a younger audience. Lessons feature performance-based content that is available on any type of mobile device, something younger drivers more readily accept.

One example — and a true success story — is a program at Patterson High School in Patterson, Calif. The program is run by Dave Dein, a high school teacher in the district who worked previously as a driver-manager for a manufacturing company who logged more than 700,000 accident- and violation-free miles.

The Patterson program includes 180 hours of instruction — 80 hours in the classroom and 100 hours practicing pre-trip inspections, air brake tests and coupling/uncoupling, as well as completing logs and trip-planning exercises— and 20 hours of training on simulators where students learn shifting, maneuvering and fuel-management techniques. Upon completion, students can obtain behind-the-wheel training with a local trucking company or enroll in a truck driving school under a district contract.

While opponents voice concerns about greater risk of accidents with younger drivers — often citing statistics about passenger vehicle crash rates involving 16- to 19-year-olds — insurance companies say there is no data about 18- to 20-year-old drivers that would raise eyebrows about their risk as heavy-duty truck operators. Plus, it’s worth noting that drivers in this age group already can drive intrastate, covering great distances in large states like California.

All of this said, the lifestyle component of interstate trucking must be considered when it comes to younger drivers. Living out on the road is not for everyone, and some would argue it’s not the ideal place for an 18-year-old who may lack the life skills to live on their own. To be sure, it takes maturity to live independently and be accountable for all the tasks required of a truck driver.

This is an area that companies and CDL schools can and should address, but is, unfortunately, a conversation that some companies overlook. Instead of glamorizing trucking as a way to “see the country,” they should address the lifestyle and realities of life on the road with new drivers. Indeed, it’s a conversation that should take place with new hires regardless of age. If they are new to the industry, then they need to know what to expect and be provided with resources for coping with the lifestyle of the job.

With proper training methods in place and direct, honest conversation about what to expect living on the road, allowing 18- to 20-year-olds to drive heavy-duty trucks simply makes sense, and would go a long way toward helping to eliminate the costly and time-consuming impact of the ongoing driver shortage on the trucking industry.

Instructional Technologies Inc. (ITI) provides online training to the transportation industry that includes its PRO-TREAD library of more than 100 standard training courses and its Sentix automated learning management system. For more information, visit www.instructiontech.net.