In every crisis, politicians get onto a soapbox to tell us the solution to the crisis.
Today, containers are piling up at our ports because shippers have sent ship after ship to our shores knowing that these ships will sit idle for weeks, and the costs of their waiting will be passed along to the consumers. People are concerned that goods are not only in short supply, but that prices are increasing on the available goods.
As the world “opens up,” from the pandemic, too much money is chasing too few goods and services. The reasons behind this situation are too complex for a politician to explain, so the crisis is being blamed on the shortage of truck drivers. The knee-jerk solution is to lower the legal age for a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) to 18.
As one who has been engaged in motor vehicle safety litigation for more than 40 years, I see this “solution” as an unnecessary risk to the motoring public. Let me be clear; I have great hope and respect for our teenagers and adolescents. It’s not a matter of skill; it’s a matter of judgment. Statistics clearly show that an 18-year-old needs more time to develop the maturity necessary to safely operate a tractor-trailer.
According to the CDC:
♦ Motor vehicle crashes are the second leading cause of death for U.S. teens.
♦ Almost 2,400 teens aged 13–19 lost their lives in car crashes in 2019. That’s an average of seven teens a day.
♦ Teen drivers aged 16–19 are nearly three times as likely as drivers aged 20 or older to be in a fatal crash, per mile driven.
♦ Driver inexperience is a leading contributor to crashes and injuries for teen drivers.
♦ Crash risk is highest during the first months that teen drivers have their license.
♦ For all ages, fatal crashes are more likely to occur at night, but the risk is higher for teens.
Insurance companies are also aware of the statistics. Rates for teenage drivers are much higher than they are for adults.
If accident rates are higher for teens driving a car, how much worse will they be in combination vehicles weighing tons more? Operating a tractor trailer rig in traffic requires far more skill and judgment than operating a car under the same conditions.
The Commercial Drivers’ Manual is the ‘Bible” for heavy vehicle operators. It is recognized in all 50 states as the standard for testing potential truck and bus drivers for their licenses.
These are but a few excerpts from the manual:
♦ Importance of Looking Far Enough Ahead. Because stopping or changing lanes can take a lot of distance, knowing what the traffic is doing on all sides of you is very important. Most good drivers look at least 12 to 15 seconds ahead. At lower speeds, that’s about one block. At highway speeds it’s about a quarter of a mile.
♦ The Effect of Speed on Stopping Distance. The faster you drive, the greater the impact or striking power of your vehicle. At 60 mph, your stopping distance is greater than the length of a football field. High speeds greatly increase the severity of crashes and stopping distances.
♦ Driving Combination Vehicles Safely. Combination vehicles are usually heavier, longer, and require more driving skill than single commercial vehicles. This means that drivers of combination vehicles need more knowledge and skill than drivers of single vehicles.
The shortage of truck drivers is nothing new. According to Smart Trucking, a truckers’ magazine, “Statistics show that there is a shortage of truck drivers in the year 2019. Currently, Canada reports being short around 25,000 truck drivers while the US reports a whopping shortage of around 60,000 drivers. This is predicted to increase over the next few years.” (www.smart-trucking.com/truck-driver-shortage/)
The article goes on to state that, “[W]e are of the belief that the truck driver shortage is really a myth. There are many individuals with the training and skills needed to fill these truck driving job positions. But due to low pay and less than desirable working conditions, many are leaving the industry, in search of a better career. Others are lured into the trucking industry as drivers, thinking they will fill these positions and make a good living for themselves and their families. Once they begin driving, they discover the trucking industry has a history of treating drivers unfairly and paying them low wages.”
I firmly believe that lowering the age for a CDL is not the answer to the world’s supply chain problems. On the other hand, it is a significant threat to the public safety. By the time a bill lowering the age is debated in Congress, the supply chain problem will likely be a matter of history. The only permanent effect of the bill will the cost to the motoring public.