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Senators spooked by ‘truck driver shortage’ call on FMCSA to allow under 21 truckers


Almost a dozen U.S. Senators have asked the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to lower the age for truck drivers operating in interstate commerce in response to mounting supply chain and labor issues.

On November 3, U.S. Senators Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) called on FMCSA Deputy Administrator Meera Joshi to lower the age of eligibility to operate commercial motor vehicles in interstate commerce from 21 to 18.

Ernst says in a letter addressed to Joshi that making more young Americans eligible to drive trucks is the next step “to get American goods and services moving again.

Read the letter in full below.

Dear Deputy Administrator Joshi:

November 3, 2021

We write to you with growing concern for the labor shortage faced by the trucking industry. The truck driver shortage, coupled with the nation’s ongoing supply chain issues, has been extremely detrimental to the economy. If left unaddressed, inaction to grow America’s pool of truck drivers threatens to drive up shipping expenses, prolong delays, and burden already-strained consumers with additional costs.

With these concerns in mind, we urge the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to allow persons 18 years of age and older to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL) and operate commercial motor vehicles in interstate commerce to get American goods and services moving again. Under current law, a 20 year old trucker could drive 363 miles in Iowa from Sioux City to Davenport, but that same driver could not drive five miles into Moline, Illinois.

Our nation’s commerce hinges on interstate trucking, but the age of entry for this profession blocks the youngest members of our workforce from the career field. In their 2021 report to Congress, the U.S. Department of Transportation estimated the average age of a commercial truck driver is 48 years old, six years older than the national workforce average1. Even more concerning is that the share of this workforce over the age of 55 has grown from 10 percent to nearly 30 percent in recent years. With a large portion of this labor demographic so close to retirement, the shortage of truckers could exceed 100,000 persons by 2028.

This wave of retiring drivers, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, produces severe consequences in an already delicate supply chain. While American truckers do their part to help America recover from this devastating pandemic, the FMCSA should strongly consider allowing persons 18 years of age and older to operate commercial vehicles in interstate commerce. Those seeking an alternative pathway to an expensive four-year degree may find the three-year gap between high school graduation and the eligible age for interstate trucking inhibitive. It should be our policy to aid and encourage these capable workers. We hope that under your leadership, this necessary reform will be made.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this request.

Other Senators who signed the letter include Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), and Steve Daines (R-Mont.).

Eighty members of the House of Representatives penned a similar letter to U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Buttigieg on November 4 asking for the FMCSA to push forward with an FMCSA Under-21 Commercial Driver Pilot Program.

In March 2021, the Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy (DRIVE-Safe) Act was reintroduced by U.S. Senators Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Jon Teste. A companion bill was introduced in the House by U.S. Representative Trey Hollingsworth.

A version of the DRIVE-Safe Act has been included as a provision in the infrastucture bill making its way through Congress.

The DRIVE-Safe Act would work by establishing an apprenticeship training program for under-21-CDL holders. Lawmakers promise that this training program would “ensure these drivers are trained beyond current standards while instituting rigorous safety standards and performance benchmarks.”

As part of the apprenticeship program, young drivers would be required to complete at least 400 hours of on-duty time and 240 hours of driving time with an experienced driver in the cab with them.

All trucks used in the apprenticeship program must be equipped with safety technology including active braking collision mitigation systems, a video event capture system, and a speed governor set at 65 miles per hour or below.

The DRIVE-Safe Act was previously introduced in February 2019. Nearly identical legislation was also introduced in August 2018.

In September 2020, the FMCSA asked for public comment on a pilot program to allow 18 to 20 year olds to operate CMVs interstate.

The American Trucking Associations (ATA) supports the DRIVE-Safe Act and for years has called for changes to the law to allow younger truck drivers to operate interstate.

The Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association (OOIDA) has long opposed the idea of teen truckers for safety reasons and because they say that there is no truck driver shortage.


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