ANALYSIS: Teen driver stats and the DRIVE-Safe Act

June 27, 2019

Tyson Fisher


Federal lawmakers and industry stakeholders are debating whether or not to allow young adults between the ages of 18 and 21 to obtain a CDL for interstate driving. A recent study by WalletHub breaking down stats for teen drivers may want to give pause to those who support the DRIVE-Safe Act.

Worst/best states for teen drivers

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens. Although drivers ages 15-19 make up 6.5% of the U.S. population, they account for 8.4% of the total costs ($13.6 billion) of motor vehicle injuries.

Some states are worse than others. WalletHub analyzed teen-driving environments using a collection of 23 key metrics. The data set ranges from number of teen driver fatalities to average cost of car repairs to presence of impaired-driving laws. Here are the results.

Worst states for teen drivers:
South Dakota.
North Dakota.
New Hampshire.
New Mexico.

Best states for teen drivers:

New York.
New Jersey.
Outside the general ranks were some more specific rankings:

Lowest/highest premium increase after adding teen driver to policy – Hawaii/Rhode Island.
Fewest/most teen driver fatalities per teen population – Vermont/Alabama and Wyoming (tied for most).
Fewest/most teen DUIs per teen population – Delaware/South Dakota.
Lowest/highest average cost of car repairs – Michigan/Georgia.

Also worth noting is the fact that only two states, Delaware and New York, have at least five of six optimal graduated driver-licensing provision. Conversely, 15 states have less than two. Those provisions include:
Minimum age of 16 for learner’s permit.
Six-month holding period.
50 hours supervised driving.
Nighttime driving restriction.
Passenger restriction.
Age 18 for unrestricted license.

DRIVE-Safe Act

Both the U.S. House and Senate have their version of a bill called the DRIVE-Safe Act and S569. The bills will allow a way for those 18-21 to obtain a CDL for interstate driving.

If signed into law, drivers between the ages of 18-21 can begin an apprenticeship involving 120 hours of on-duty time, of which at least 80 hours are driving time in a commercial motor vehicle. After the 120-hour probation period, an employer will determine if the apprentice is competent in the following areas:
Interstate, city traffic, rural 2-lane, and evening driving.
Safety awareness.
Speed and space management.
Lane control.
Mirror scanning.
Right and left turns.
Logging and complying with rules relating to hours of service.

After that, a 280-hour probation period must be completed, including at least 160 hours of driving a commercial motor vehicles. Apprentices will be assessed in the following areas:
Backing and maneuvering in close quarters.
Pre-trip inspections.
Fueling procedures.
Weighing loads, weight distribution, and sliding tandems.
Coupling and uncoupling procedures.
Trip planning, truck routes, map reading, navigation, and permits.

Furthermore, the apprentice can only drive a truck that has an automatic transmission, active braking collision mitigation system, forward-facing video event capture, and governed speeds of 65 mph at the pedal and 65 mph under adaptive cruise control.

As of June 27, the House version has 91 co-sponsors, including 74 Republicans and 17 Democrats. In the Senate bill, there are 23 Republicans, three Democrats and one independent co-sponsoring the bill.

The previous Congress had a similar bill before it died before the start of the current Congress. According to Skopos Labs, the House bill has a 4% chance of being enacted, whereas the Senate bill has a 5% chance. That can change significantly as more co-sponsors are getting added every week.

Adding teen drivers is not the solution to a fake problem

The motivation behind the DRIVE-Safe Act is to add more applicants to the employment pool to solve the “driver shortage.” The idea is that the industry is missing out on straight-out-of-high-school young adults looking to immediately start a career.

As I pointed out in another blog, there is no drive shortage. Rather there is a driver retention problem. But let’s entertain the idea that there is a literal shortage. I also pointed out in that blog that even the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that any perceived shortage is the result of insufficient paychecks. Consequently, any issues with employment can be solved by paying drivers more.

However, large carriers and the associations representing them do not want to pay drivers more. There way around that is to convince everyone, especially Congress, that there is a driver shortage that poses dire consequences if not addressed.

The DRIVE-Safe Act does two things. First, it addresses this manufactured problem. Second, it could send in a wave of very young applicants with very little experience in life as an adult, let alone a driver. That means they can pay these teen drives pennies on the dollar compared to what they should be paying experienced drivers to stay onboard.

Small carriers typically pay their drivers more compared with their medium- and large-sized carrier counterparts. Those smaller carriers are not experiencing any shortage in applicants.

Large carriers would rather sacrifice the safety of nearly every American motorist in order to avoid paying good drivers what they are worth. We’re talking millions of people’s well-being put on the line just so revenues stay up and driver paychecks stay down.

WalletHub’s study is one of several that reveals how people under 21 years old are not ready to drive an 80,000-pound vehicle across the country. If you want to go by scientific data, there could be an argument to raise the age limit

According to research published in 2009, the adolescent brain continues to mature well into the 20s. This is consistent with other studies that suggest the prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until about the age of 25. What is the prefrontal cortex? From the 2009 study:

The prefrontal cortex coordinates higher-order cognitive processes and executive functioning. Executive functions are a set of supervisory cognitive skills needed for goal-directed behavior, including planning, response inhibition, working memory, and attention. These skills allow an individual to pause long enough to take stock of a situation, assess his or her options, plan a course of action, and execute it. Poor executive functioning leads to difficulty with planning, attention, using feedback, and mental inflexibility, all of which could undermine judgment and decision making.

I’d say those are pretty important functions when moving 65 mph in an 80,000-pound vehicle.
Combine neuroscience with studies that reveal the danger of teen driving – such as WalletHub’s – and that’s enough reason to vote down the DRIVE-Safe Act, with or without a “driver shortage.”