By: Melissa Stern
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Some large companies and lawmakers want to lower the age to drive semitrailers across state lines due to a shortage of truckers.
But many small companies, traffic safety groups and industry officials say it’s just asking for trouble.
“At 18 or 19, while in most states you can legally drive bigger vehicles, you`re restricted to within the state,” said Todd Spencer, the president of Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.
OOIDA is a trade association that advocates for small business truckers.
Spencer said the age limit is because drivers aren’t as mature in their late teens as older drivers are.
“For large trucks, maturity is really important. We`re talking about 80-ton vehicles,” Spencer said.
A bill co-sponsored by Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas would lower the age requirement to allow drivers as young as 18 to drive across state lines. The current regulations say you must be 21.
“No small-business truckers are going to be able to take advantage of that simply because small carriers will not be able to get younger drivers insured,” Spencer said.
Moran released the following statement regarding the DRIVE-Safe Act:
“Not only would the DRIVE-Safe Act create new career opportunities for young Kansans, but it would also help move the supply-chain nationwide in a more expeditious manner – benefiting many sectors of the Kansas economy. This legislation includes important provisions that would help curb the trucker shortage, train safe drivers, and deliver goods and supplies to the Kansans that need them.”
Spencer said the bigger companies are looking for a new pool of people, so they can pay a starter wage and help the company make more money.
“We don`t see how potentially compromising highway safety is worth the risk,” Spencer said.
The director of education for Apex CDL Institute agrees with Spencer. He said the companies pushing for this legislation are doing so because their turnover rates are through the roof. He said they cannot retain their drivers because they do not have competitive pay and benefits, and they have horrible home time.
He said they’re trying to open the pool wider from which to pull new drivers, and that it’s a backwards solution to the inherent problem, which is retention.
“We’ve been hearing the talk of shortage for 25 years, and when you sort through the smoke and mirrors is what they call a shortage is actually a retention problem, the current numbers of those companies saying they have a shortage is a 94 percent driver turnover — 94 percent!” Spencer said.