DRIVE-Safe Act adds dozen more co-sponsors

October 3, 2019

Mark Schremmer

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A dozen more lawmakers signed on as co-sponsors of the DRIVE-Safe Act in September.

HR1374, which was introduced by Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, R-Ind., on Feb. 26, and S569, which was introduced by Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., on the same day, would allow under-21 drivers to operate in interstate commerce.

Eleven members of the House of Representatives and one senator lent support to the respective bills in September. As of Oct. 3, the measure had 117 co-sponsors in the House and 32 in the Senate.

House Co-sponsors
Senate Co-sponsors

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association opposes the bills, saying that lowering the driving age from 21 to 18 would be a detriment to highway safety.

“Younger drivers – especially teenagers – generally lack the maturity and experience to operate a commercial motor vehicle at the safest levels,” OOIDA President and CEO Todd Spencer wrote to lawmakers after the DRIVE-Safe Act was introduced. “Research consistently concludes that commercial motor vehicle drivers under the age of 21 are more likely to be involved in crashes. In some states, teenagers entering the apprentice program created by the legislation would have only recently received a full driver’s license to operate an automobile, let alone a commercial motor vehicle.”

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

In addition, such groups as the Teamsters and Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety are opposed to the bills.

Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, told the subcommittee on that teen truck drivers pose a “major safety threat.”

“Advocates strongly oppose the so-called DRIVE-Safe Act, which would severely jeopardize the safety of all road users by putting teenagers behind the wheel of large trucks in interstate commerce,” Chase wrote.

“Driving a truck is already one of the most dangerous occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Allowing teenagers to drive trucks in interstate commerce will only serve to exacerbate the major problems with truck driver working conditions. Instead of tapping into an unsafe driving pool of teenagers, improving upon working conditions should result in current, experienced drivers staying on the job and ideally lead to being healthier and more fulfilled in their profession.”

Proponents for the bills point to provisions that would require under-21 drivers to complete probationary periods of 120 hours and 280 hours, including a total of 240 hours of driving time. During the probationary periods, the under-21 trucker must be with an experienced driver and the truck must be equipped with braking collision mitigation systems and speed-limiters set at 65 mph.

However, groups like Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety remain skeptical about the bill’s purported safety requirements.

“The training proposals in this bill are woefully inadequate,” Chase wrote. “The first probationary period only consists of 80 hours of behind-the-wheel training, which can be completed in a little over one work week while abiding by hours-of-service requirements.”

The bills are also strongly tied to claims of a driver shortage.

OOIDA has long refuted those claims, saying that more than enough drivers gain a commercial driver’s license each year but that large fleets are unable to retain those drivers because of low pay and poor work environments. Earlier this year, a report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics affirmed OOIDA’s stance.

“Once you understand the driver shortage is a myth, proposals like the DRIVE-Safe Act are exposed for what they really are – dangerous attempts by large fleets to increase their supply of cheap labor without taking any steps to improve compensation or working conditions,” Spencer said.

Mark Schremmer

Mark Schremmer, staff writer, 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.