DRIVE-Safe Act is a misnomer, and a bad idea

July 5, 2018

Wendy Parker

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DRIVE-Safe sounds like a good thing, right? Of course it does. The word “safe” is involved. Unfortunately, the name doesn’t illustrate a true representation of detrimental impacts HR 5458 might actually have on highway safety.

Let’s make this simple. It’s a bad idea to lower the age for interstate commercial drivers to 18. There are a number of extremely valid reasons. Here are a few more you won’t hear about in special interest propaganda.

We’re going to immediately and unequivocally eliminate the argument of necessity. The Department of Transportation registers more than 40,000 commercial driver’s license per month. To claim that there is a commercial driver shortage is a flat-out lie, and a numerical impossibility.

There is no commercial driver shortage.

Time and again, the “safety” advocates gunning for this reduced age, fail to mention key safety facts. According to 2015 statistics from Centers for Disease Control, teenage drivers are three times more likely than adults 20 and older to be involved in motor vehicle crashes.

There’s a reason our 20-year-old son paid almost as much for car insurance last year as his father did for commercial vehicle insurance. The cost of human life isn’t all that’s high. In 2013, teenagers represented only 7 percent of the U.S. population and accounted for 11 percent ($10 billion) of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries.

DRIVE-Safe Act is not in the interest of safety, or cost-effectiveness.

The idea of 18- to 20-year-old military recruits being the same as 18- to 20-year-old privately trained commercial drivers isn’t even remotely arguable. It is, in fact, why an FMCSA pilot program to allow 18- to 20-year-old drivers specifies they have training and experience in certain military occupational specialties. Transitional status from the military is an entirely different category of underage interstate driver.

The bill requires so much gadgetry to participate, that it is pricing smaller carriers who traditionally have less turnover and spend more time with their new hires. Small-business trucking makes up more than 89 percent of the industry. The DRIVE-Safe act would continue to funnel the most inexperienced drivers to large fleets. Statistically, mega-fleet trainees churn at a rate of 90 percent. This bill would just set up more kids to get chewed up and spit out by the mega fleets.

It’s worth noting that lowering the interstate license age to 18 puts the military in direct competition for recruitment. Graduates who might have enlisted in the military for highly supervised specialized training might choose to skip that step and go directly to commercial driving.

Adding inexperienced drivers who will work for less money will increase the churn. It will not solve the driver retention issue, it will most likely exacerbate it.

The argument that “a 19-year-old can drive a semi-trailer truck several hours from Alexandria, Va. to Roanoke, Va., but he or she can’t drive a few minutes from Alexandria to Washington D.C.,” is a valid one.

That’s right. I agree with that point.

Don’t get too comfortable with my being agreeable. My idea of how it should be fixed isn’t to expand the loophole. Let’s fix it instead. The 18-year-old commercial license should be limited to a straight 150-mile radius.

But that depends wholly on if we’re talking about safety, or serving special interest groups. Groups who may or may not contribute funds to campaigns that will be desperately needed this election year. Because one of these is not like the other, and they don’t mix well.

One final thought for Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif. and the House members who have signed on with this DRIVE-Safe Act. If anyone is confident enough to hop in a speed-limited truck dragging 80,000 pounds, with a green, 18-year-old driver, and zip around the 495 loop on a Friday afternoon, be my guest. I’m certain it will be an eye-opening experience.

Let me know when that’s happening, so I can stay the hell off the highway.

 

Wendy Parker

Wendy Parker has covered the trucking industry since 2012 after she says she “lost my mind and decided to climb inside my husband’s big truck to travel with him as an over-the road, long-haul trucker.” Her unique writing style that ranges from biting satire to investigative journalism coupled with her unbridled passion for fighting round out a wildly talented stable of writers.