The Biden administration is set to launch an apprenticeship program to get 18-year-olds into long-haul trucking jobs, despite a steady increase in fatal truck crashes over the years.
The trucking industry has long called for Congress to lower the legal driving age for interstate trucking from 21 to 18, and lawmakers have proposed the apprenticeship program as part of the bipartisan infrastructure bill l ‘last year.
Freight carriers have complained for years that they cannot find enough drivers, although economists have pointed out that the alleged shortage stems from low wages and difficult working conditions. Expanding the labor pool to include younger drivers will make it easier for companies to avoid paying higher wages.
Members of Congress have taken complaints of a “driver shortage” at face value, and the White House has openly embraced the prospect of falling labor costs reducing the prices of consumer goods.
“The reason this was included in the bipartisan infrastructure law is that we need to address the shortage of drivers which of course impacts the transfer of goods and then the cost of goods on the shelves,” said said White House press secretary Jen Psaki. this week.
The administration this week announced the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot as one of many parts of the infrastructure bill set to take effect, including $27 billion to repair bridges across the country. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said that in the “near future” it will set up a website with information about the young driver learning program.
However, Zach Cahalan says it’s offensive that the administration used the word “safe” in the program’s name.
“I understand that the administration needs to abide by the law passed by Congress and start this learning program, but there is no reason to call it safe,” said Cahalan, director of the Truck Safety Coalition, a pressure group based in Washington, DC. . “It’s putting lipstick on a pig. They turn on the American people.
As the The Congressional Research Service noted“studies consistently show that young commercial drivers, like young drivers in general, are significantly more likely to be involved in crashes than their older counterparts.” Truck and bus fatalities increased by 47% between 2009 and 2019, according to the most recent FMCSA numbers.
The trucking industry argues that a lower age requirement between states won’t make highways any less safe. A key point is that 18-year-olds are already allowed to get commercial driver’s licenses and drive large trucks in almost every state – they’re just not allowed to cross borders until they’re 21. .
“In practice, that means a 20-year-old can drive her rig for thousands of miles across a big state like Texas or California, but she can’t pick up or drop off a load a mile away. across the border in a neighboring state,” American Trucking Associations spokesman Jeremy Kirkpatrick said in an email.
The pilot program requires an additional 400 hours of training accompanied by an experienced driver, Kirkpatrick said, and requires trucks to be equipped with advanced safety features such as active braking and video cameras.
But the argument that the program will simply allow 18-year-old experienced drivers to finally cross state lines masks how it’s actually changing work, said Steve Viscelli, a trucking economics expert at the University of Pennsylvania. Driving within state lines usually means driving home every night; driving on a highway can mean long journeys away from home, with more opportunities for fatigue.
“These drivers will be driving irregular hours for weeks, sometimes months at a time,” Viscelli said. “It’s a fundamentally different kind of work.”
Trucking companies and freight distributors have been unanimous in support of the program, while safety advocates have opposed it, calling it an industry giveaway that compromises safety.
“The reason there’s a shortage of truckers is because it’s lousy work,” said Joan Claybrook, former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and former director of good governance group Public Citizen. “These truckers quit because they’re forced to drive ― and DOT rules allow them to drive ― for 77 hours in seven days. That’s not a life.
The Huffington Gt