Almost everyone in the U.S. feels the effects of the current supply chain crisis. It is evident everywhere, but empty shelves in the supermarkets are a particularly noticeable indicator of the crisis.
According to logistic experts, one reason for the supply chain crunch is COVID-19. However, the ongoing pandemic is not the only problem; the U.S. is experiencing a shortage of truckers which has compounded the problem.
Currently, the U.S. is 80,000 truckers short of the current demand, and the federal government is looking at teen drivers to solve the trucker shortage problem. Currently, the law doesn’t allow drivers under 21 to drive trucks beyond state lines, but they can drive trucks in 49 states and Washington D.C. In practice, this means a 19-year-old can drive their rig for miles and miles in a vast state like Texas or California but cannot drive half a mile across state lines.
Teen Drivers Could Be the Solution
Before teens can drive big rigs across state lines, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) will conduct a teen driver apprenticeship program. This program aims to gauge what effect allowing teen truck drivers to cross state lines would have on road safety.
The move to allow teen truck drivers is part of the Biden Administration’s infrastructure bill passed by Congress late last year. The bill also set the time limits for starting the apprenticeship program at 60 days from when the president signed the bill into law.
How the Apprentice Program Works
Under the apprenticeship program, 3,000 selected teen drivers will be allowed to drive across state lines with an experienced driver in the passenger seat during the 120-hour and 280-hour probation period. After the probation period, the teen drivers can drive alone, but the trucking company must closely monitor their performance until they are 21. Department of Transportation (DOT) allows the FMCSA to run the apprenticeship program in trucking companies with excellent safety records.
The program will last three years, after which the FMCSA will compile a report and turn it in to Congress. Congress will then use the results to determine whether to change federal laws to allow teen truckers past state lines.
Opposition to the Move
This move is not without opposition. According to Peter Kurdock, the Advocate for Highway and Auto Safety’s general counsel, this move will endanger other people’s lives on the road. Even data from the federal government indicates that teenage drivers are more prone to causing accidents than their older counterparts.
“It takes more than training to be a responsible driver; maturity is also an important factor which many teen drivers don’t have,” says Attorney Jim Hurley of Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers. According to Hurley, putting a teenager behind the wheel of a truck weighing over 40 tons can significantly increase their chances of causing an accident which can be catastrophic.
On the other hand, proponents of the move say that nothing is left to chance because the program requires the teens to undergo a 400-hour advanced safety training before driving across state lines. However, road safety experts are skeptical of the reliability of the data obtained from the program.