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Trucking Companies Are Hiring Teenage Drivers

Nov 15, 2022 | 0 comments

What could possibly go wrong?

This year a federal apprenticeship program got put into place, allowing people as young as 18 to drive commercial trucks carrying tons of cargo across state lines. They will only be required to complete 400 hours of cumulative probationary time with an experienced driver riding with them in the passenger seat. After that, they may drive solo, though they must be “under continuous monitoring by trucking companies.” 

This means they will drive with forward-facing video cameras and active braking collision mitigation systems, and they are being asked to stay under 65 miles per hour. Advocates say other safety features such as lane departure warning technologies may also make these trucks safe enough for teenagers to drive. 

Here in New York, the Young Adult Commercial Driver’s License Program gives teenagers CDLs.  They may also drive tractor trailers and other machinery within state lines. 

The trucking industry is hailing this as a fantastic solution to address driver shortages. There’s cause for doubt. More motor vehicle crashes happen among teens age 16 to 19 than with any other group. They are almost three times as likely as drivers aged 20 or older to be in a fatal crash. The rate is even higher for males, the demographic that is the most likely to be interested in these jobs. 

There is a reason these kids aren’t old enough to rent a car yet. 

Perhaps paying truckers more and avoiding practices that drive them out of the industry would be an even better solution. Even the most responsible teen in the world simply does not have enough experience to make truck driving a safe job for them to be engaged in. Experience gives you the power to recognize when a situation on the road is about to become dangerous, and to respond accordingly. Training is not a substitute for experience. 

In addition, truckers usually have to do at least some of their driving at night, which means risky teen drivers in risky vehicles at the riskiest time of day. At night, a teen is three times more likely to be involved in an accident per mile driven. 

While we hope that the trucking company is training teens out of the behavior, 39% of teens admit to texting or emailing while driving at least once before a National Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Does anyone really doubt that some of these drivers will be unable to resist at least glancing at their phones when there’s a buzz or a ping, no matter what the consequences of those actions might look like? 

Drunk driving is already a problem in the industry among adult drivers. Teens drive under the influence as well. 

A passenger vehicle weighs 2,000 to 4,000 pounds, on average. A semi truck with a fully loaded trailer weighs 80,000 pounds. 

Now add trucking company practices in which workers are pressured to cut corners in regards to federal trucking and transportation laws. Teenagers may have more energy than the rest of us, but they may also be less equipped to stand up for themselves when a dispatcher demands they make better time than the law allows for. Tired driving is worse than drunk or distracted driving.

Long distance truck drivers average about 125,000 miles per year and spend an average of 300 days on the road

The trucking industry claims that they would never put an unsafe driver on the road, and that 45 year olds can be immature too. 45 year olds certainly can, but we’ve also watched plenty of trucking companies put all sorts of drivers on the road who shouldn’t be there.

Improper background checks and inadequate training are one of the first things we check for when we start evaluating a truck accident case, and we find instance after instance of drivers who should never have been on the road in the first place. The idea that trucking companies are suddenly going to get way more responsible about who they put on the road because teenagers are behind the wheel rings a little bit insincere. 

At the very least, legally, motor carriers are required to assume responsibility during probationary periods for ensuring drivers are competent. This is refreshing, since motor carriers often try to wriggle out of responsibility after accidents by claiming their driver is an “independent contractor.” There’s no making that claim for teen drivers under this program. Not all motor carriers will be eligible for the program, and they must apply to participate. 

All this means we’re more likely to see truck-based personal injury cases and wrongful death cases in the coming years. At least the video cameras will capture some evidence that may be used in cases. 

The apprenticeship program will last three years, and then the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) must report findings to the Congress. 

Here’s hoping they won’t have too many tragedies to talk about.  

See also:

Bus and Subway Accidents in New York City

“Hands-Free” Technology Doesn’t Equal “Brain Free” Driving

Why Are New York’s Streets Deadlier in 2021 Than in Previous Years?

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