Bill closes door on proposal to allow 18-year-old semi drivers

| 2/14/2003

A section of the appropriations bill that passed Congress Feb. 13 will torpedo a program that would have allowed 18-year-olds behind the wheel of tractor-trailers.

The plan, which started with a proposal from the Truckload Carriers Association, was a pilot program that would have allowed people from 18 to 21 years old to drive a vehicle used in interstate commerce.

Section 346 of the appropriations bill says, “None of the funds in this Act may be obligated or expended by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for the development or implementation of a pilot program for the purpose of allowing commercial drivers 18 to 20 years of age to operate the trucks and buses of motor carriers in interstate commerce.”

TCA contended the program would ease what the group called a driver shortage. The petition set off alarm bells throughout the industry and prompted immediate opposition from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

“This is simply an effort by motor carriers to find a new source of people willing to work cheap,” says OOIDA President Jim Johnston. “And provisions in the proposal that would hold the driver captive to the carrier until he’s 21 amounts to no more than indentured servitude.”

The TCA proposal did include increased driver training – something long sought by OOIDA. In fact, the association suggested the program would be a good addition to the CDL requirements for persons 21 years old and over.

In comments submitted to the FMCSA by Johnston and Paul Cullen Jr. of The Cullen Law Firm, OOIDA made clear why it opposed the proposal:

“The association does not believe that teen-age drivers have the experience and maturity necessary to take on the responsibilities and challenges of driving a truck. Although the proposed training program has merit, it is no substitute for the maturity and experience that teen-agers lack.

“Putting younger drivers behind the wheel of trucks will make the driving environment less safe for the driver and the public at-large.”

--by Mark H. Reddig, associate editor