Teamsters, safety groups among those opposed to DRIVE-Safe Act

July 25, 2019

Mark Schremmer

|

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has been extremely vocal in its opposition of the DRIVE-Safe Act, which would allow under-21 drivers to operate in interstate commerce.

OOIDA has said that lowering the age from 21 to 18 would be a detriment to highway safety.

However, the Association isn’t the only group who believes the DRIVE-Safe Act has nothing to do with improving safety.

The Teamsters and many safety groups, including Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, have spoken out against the legislation.

Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa said allowing teenagers to drive trucks interstate would jeopardize safety. In addition, Lamont Byrd, director of safety and health for the Teamsters, testified against the DRIVE-Safe Act during a House subcommittee hearing on Highways and Transit.

“There are some in the trucking industry who view lowering the minimum driving age for commercial drivers to 18 as one solution to the increasing the demand for qualified drivers,” Byrd wrote in his submitted testimony. “The Teamsters Union is particularly concerned about this issue as there is significant evidence showing young drivers are more likely to be involved in crashes.”

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.”

The current minimum driving age for intrastate is 18. Chase cites data showing commercial motor vehicle drivers under the age of 19 are four times more likely than 21-and-older drivers to be involved in fatal crashes, and truckers ages 19-20 are six times more likely to be involved in a deadly crash.

“This alarming reality is not surprising given that generally younger drivers are more likely to be involved in fatal crashes because they lack driving experience and skills and tend to take greater risks,” Chase wrote. “Development of the brain region vital to decision making, specifically the pre-frontal cortex, may not be fully reached until one’s mid-20s.”

Despite the opposition, however, the DRIVE-Safe Act continues to gain supporters in the House and Senate.

HR1374, which was introduced by Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, R-Ind., on Feb. 26, had 103 co-sponsors as of July 25, and S569, which was introduced by Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., on the same day, was up to 30 co-sponsors.

In the past week alone, three representatives – Billy Long (R-Mo.), Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) and Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) – and two senators – Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.) – have lent their support to the respective bills.

While mostly backed by Republicans, the bills are receiving some bipartisan support. Eighteen of the co-sponsors in the House are Democrats, while four of the co-sponsors in the Senate are Democrats.

Advocates 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.

“Our nation’s military allows 18-, 19- and 20-year-old service members to operate heavy-duty machinery, equipment and vehicles – demonstrating that good training makes it possible for the average U.S. sailor (younger than 20 years old) to steer a $4 billion aircraft carrier,” American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear wrote in his submitted testimony to the subcommittee.

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.”

Chase compared the total of 240 hours of driving time to other professions’ training requirements. She said the FAA requires pilots working with airlines to have 1,500 hours of flight time and that Texas requires plumbers to have 8,000 hours of experience.

In addition, the safety group contends that the safety equipment could actually end up being a detriment, because drivers would only be required to use it during the probationary period and that they could learn to be too reliant on the technology.

Proponents for the bills often tout it as a way to end the driver shortage. However, a recent federal report affirmed OOIDA’s stance that there isn’t a shortage of truck drivers.

OOIDA contends that without a driver shortage, there seems to be no justification for the DRIVE-Safe Act.

“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,” OOIDA President Todd Spencer said.

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.