ATA contradicts itself in attempt to lower driving age

June 14, 2019

Mark Schremmer

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According to the American Trucking Associations, lowering the minimum driving age of interstate truck drivers from 21 to 18 is all about safety.

Heck, the bill was even dubbed the DRIVE-Safe Act.

“The reason a quarter of the House and Senate – bipartisan – members like (Sheila) Jackson Lee understand why sponsoring this matters is because it’s safer,” ATA President Chris Spear said during a House subcommittee hearing on June 12. “Four-hundred hours of apprenticeship-based training of which 240 of those hours have to have an experienced driver in the cab with the 18- to 21-year-old … This is a step toward safety, not away.”

Spear’s fiery response to the lawmakers made it appear that ATA believed proper driver training is the most direct route to safety.

However, history tells us a much different story.

ATA has long opposed the requirement of a driver training rule and played a role in preventing a minimum number of hours behind the wheel be included in the final rule that was published in 2016 and is set to go into effect in 2020.

As part of the negotiated rulemaking, FMCSA formed a committee of 26 industry stakeholders and charged them to develop the recommended framework for the final rule on driver training. Twenty-four of the 26 stakeholders agreed that a minimum number of hours of behind-the-wheel training should be required. The only dissenting votes came from the National Association of Small Trucking Companies and, you guessed it, ATA.

Even though the committee had recommended 30 hours of behind-the-wheel training, ATA and NASTC had enough pull to keep any amount of required driving hours out of the final rule.

Fast-forward a few years and ATA says the push for allowing an 18-year-old to cross state lines in an 80,000-pound tractor-trailer is all about safety, because the drivers will receive that crucial time behind the wheel in order to learn how to be a safe trucker.

Here’s a thought. If proper driver training is the best way to increase safety – and it is – shouldn’t that apply to all new drivers and not just the 18- to 20-year-olds that many larger carriers are so ready to hand the keys over to?

Here’s another thought. Maybe this isn’t about safety at all. Maybe it’s about finding a new pool of people to attempt to talk into becoming a truck driver while driving down prices. Driver turnover among the large carriers has been around 90% or above for years.

For the record, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association was one of the 24 organizations pushing for a minimum number of driving hours and has been a major advocate of a driver training rule for years.

OOIDA also will be the first to tell you that the DRIVE-Safe Act has nothing to do with safety.

“I really can’t think of a worse response to the myth of a driver shortage than to lower the driving age or reduce the already low standard to get a CDL,” OOIDA President Todd Spencer told the subcommittee. “This is really a highway safety issue. What’s not a myth is that new drivers crash more often and that younger drivers crash more often. There is no substitute to experience when it comes to safety, and doing things that help perpetuate the churn for driver turnover is not only counterproductive to safety, but it undermines the economics of all drivers.”

The OOIDA Foundation has cited statistics that younger drivers are more likely to receive a traffic conviction or violation.

A quick look at the statistics makes it clear that lowering the driving age certainly isn’t the best way to decrease the number of crashes on the highway.

“Our organization is not a proponent of lowering the permissible driving age for commercial driving age to below 21,” Spencer said. “Everything about this committee is about safety. When we look at where crashes take place among the drivers, you don’t take that age down. You take it up. You take it up to at least 25, which is largely what it was in the 1970s when I entered trucking.”

Mark Schremmer

Mark Schremmer, associate editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and nearly two decades of journalism experience to our staff.