Pushes for under-21 drivers, higher insurance minimums seem related

January 26, 2022

Chuck Robinson

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There are two issues that get many of us riled up. One is the incessant push by trail lawyers to increase the required minimum insurance coverage from $750,000. The second is another incessantly pushed idea that 18-20-year-olds driving tractor-trailers from state to state and across the country is a good idea.

Though I worry in mentioning it about being considered a conspiracy theorist, the thought crosses my mind that the two are related.

It probably won’t help me on the conspiracy theorist suspicion, but it was someone on the internet who planted that idea in my brain. Thanks, Snap Shot Freak on Twitter.

I don’t actually buy into the idea that these two issues are tied at the hip or that one causes the other. At the same time, I don’t think larger carriers are going to sweat the issue of higher premiums like a smaller business would be forced to do. On top of that, the under-21 pilot program will have requirements that will guarantee small businesses and carriers will likely be underrepresented compared to the mega fleets.

With that said, for discussion’s sake let’s noodle on the connections between the two issues.

It is common knowledge that insurance companies charge higher premiums for younger drivers.

Teenage drivers can pay double the average car insurance rates and even more.

Part of the reason is that 18-20-year-olds have an unproven track record. That means they don’t get premium discounts for safe driving and the like. They also are more likely to engage in risky behavior behind the wheel, such as talking to others in the vehicle, looking for something while driving, applying makeup while driving, reading directions and eating and drinking.

If all of that is true when they are behind the wheel of a passenger vehicle, and it causes premiums to rise, won’t it do the same if 18-20-year-olds are steering a Class 8 truck?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gets nearly poetic on the topic if teen drivers being involved in more collisions, in its bureaucratic fashion.

“The risk of motor vehicle crashes is higher among teens aged 16-19 than among any other age group,” the CDC says in a teen driver fact sheet. “In fact, per mile driven, teen drivers in this age group are nearly three times as likely as drivers aged 20 or older to be in a fatal crash.”

Much like when my mom and dad’s premium skyrocketed when me and my brothers hit driving age, won’t the same happen to commercial vehicle insurance premiums if 18-20-year-old drivers start supplanting experienced drivers in interstate commerce.

The door has been cracked, hasn’t it, with the pilot program for commercial drivers as young as 18 getting slipped in with the recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has noted that getting drivers who are under 21 years old behind the wheels of trucks hauling cargo from state to state is absolutely not about improving highway safety. It’s about getting fodder to feed the grist mill of underpaid employees for some mega fleets.

But many of the same proponents of under-21 interstate commercial driving are behind raising insurance coverage minimums.

Higher insurance minimums, which would require higher premiums, could weed-out owner-operators. Mega fleets either buy so much insurance that they wouldn’t be affected by higher minimums or they are self-insured for up to $10 million and wouldn’t be affected because of that.

And of course, it is the mega fleets that have high turnover of nine of 10 drivers every year and need more bodies to fill the drivers’ seats. They benefit from shippers and receivers not having parking for drivers after they cross the country delivering cargo if they somehow beat the odds and get there early.

OOIDA has repeatedly drawn the line on insurance minimums, willing to scuttle important highway funding bills over it and more.

Once 18-20-year-olds are enmeshed in interstate commerce, their driving records could well raise premiums for all drivers, and as the premiums go up the trial lawyers will be pushing for higher minimums while we are at it.

Surely, this will more squarely affect small-business trucking operations than large ones.

My 18-year-old self is really ticked off at my present self.

I know I was anxious to get started doing whatever back when I was 18 years old. I thought it was unfair to have arbitrary rules blocking me.

Of course, me and my brothers got our driver’s licenses during the Vietnam War draft era. And the drinking age was 18. Along with the war protests was the chant that if you can send us to war at this age, and we can sign legal contracts and buy property, then surely we can have a cocktail.

My 18-year-old self would surely have included driving a big truck across state lines.

He would only remark on his various fender benders as a young driver if pushed to do it. The problem is, fender-benders become a much bigger deal when the vehicle weighs 80,000 pounds.

Staying closer to home while getting used to driving a tractor-trailer isn’t stupid. It is preparation. It is the best education a driver can get to help decide if long-haul trucking is a good fit. That is what my older self would tell my younger self. LL

Thanks to Land Line’s social media coordinator, Kerry Evans-Spillman, for bringing Snap Shot Freak’s tweet to our attention.

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Chuck Robinson formerly was senior copy editor for a weekly trade publication serving the fresh produce industry. He has served trade publications, horticultural journals and community newspapers for 25 years.