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To help ease ongoing supply chain issues, the federal government has lifted a major restriction on teenage big-rig drivers. Until now, drivers under the age of 21 have been restricted to driving within the confines of their home state. Allowing teens to cross state lines was seen as helping to alleviate the chronic labor shortage in commercial transportation. Legitimate concerns about teen accident rates could be addressed if transportation companies implement rigorous safety protocols and systems. If put in place for all drivers, however, these increased safety measures could have a positive effect on the industry as a whole.
Probation Period and Stringent Rules
The screening process for potential teen drivers automatically excludes any candidates with impaired driving violations or traffic tickets associated with causing a crash. Further, to ensure their safety, as well as those they share the road with, under-21 drivers will undergo a stringent set of rules in accordance with an apprenticeship pilot program:
All trucks used by teen drivers crossing state lines will have forward-facing video cameras, an electronic braking crash mitigation system and an enforced speed limit of 65mph.
A 120–280-hour probation period, during which an experienced driver rides along with them. When the period ends, they can drive on their own.
Companies will continue to monitor performance until drivers reach 21 years of age.
While hiring teenage drivers might have a near-term effect on efforts to alleviate current supply chain challenges, it does not address many other trucking labor issues. The talent turnover rate remains high for large fleets, with 40% of drivers leaving jobs within a year. Drivers struggle with exhaustion, feelings of inefficacy, and career cynicism. Shifting the minimum driver age from 21 to 18 simply changes the age at which the average driver eventually moves on to another career path.
Implementing Large Scale Regulations for All Drivers
A better solution might be to take a longer-term view of the labor issue. A roll-back of regulation, starting with the Motor Carrier Act of 1980, which made it easier for companies to reduce rates, had a long-term detrimental effect on the industry, particularly labor and safety. As companies looked for ways to maintain and grow margins, employment arrangements were changed in ways that hurt drivers and created more dangerous working conditions. As these trends have played out, the industry has seen the aforementioned high driver turnover rate, a slowing pipeline of new talent and ever-increasing insurance premiums. Today the commercial trucking industry, from both an insurance and business perspective, has become a risky endeavor with margins shrinking as claims rise.
If the regulatory standards now proposed for teen truck drivers were applied to all driving talent, commercial transportation could potentially reap tremendous benefits. Driver-facing cameras, overriding braking crash mitigation technology, and fixed speed limits ensure better driving, and a more restrictive hiring process in general will minimize liability exposures.
The hard data of regulatory benefits could be used to make an argument for lowering premiums as claims begin to decline and roads become safer. Embracing regulations and investing in new technologies now would pay itself back down the road by businesses eventually spending less on premiums and instead save spending for reinvesting in their labor force.
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