Posted March 4, 2022

Younger Drivers: Solution or Band-Aid to the Driver Shortage?

By Brittany Firth

When was the last time you heard about the truck driver shortage? Or better yet, when was the last time you didn’t hear about it? In 2019, the trucking industry was short 61,500 drivers, according to the American Trucking Associations (ATA). Then the pandemic happened, and that shortage increased by 30%. The U.S. is now in need of 80,000 drivers – a record high.

One of the primary reasons why truck drivers were getting out of the industry during the pandemic was, well, the pandemic itself. There was a spike in retirements among older drivers who were at a higher risk of facing severe complications if they were to contract the virus. The health risks of continuing to work for several more years just weren’t worth taking for some when they were already so close to retirement.

Retirement was concern even before the pandemic, as retirement accounts for 54% of the driver shortage, according to the National Transportation Institute (NTI). There just aren’t enough younger drivers to take the place of the large pool of baby boomers leaving the industry. In fact, the ATA reported that the median age of over-the-road truck drivers is 46 years old and the average age of a new driver being trained is 35 years old.

The proposed solution to this ongoing problem is a new pilot program designed to open interstate commerce to drivers between the ages of 18 and 20. Currently, in most states, people within those age ranges can drive trucks within state lines. However, to drive trucks beyond state lines, you must be at least 21 years old. The U.S. government is trucking ahead with apprenticeships aiming to provide the necessary experience and supervision to train younger CDL drivers to travel outside of their home state.

Although safety advocates fear that younger drivers tend to be more distracted and have a higher rate of accidents, supporters say this new program is exactly what the industry needs. Plus, it’s not like there will suddenly be tens of thousands of teenagers driving big rigs across the country – only 3,000 apprentices can participate in the training at any given time. Furthermore, they will need to complete 400 hours of cumulative provisional time with an experienced driver supervising them from the passenger’s seat.

The experienced driver will need to be 26 years of age or older with a minimum of five years’ semi-truck driving experience and a clean driving record.

These apprenticeship programs aim to:

  • Address the driver shortage in a way that was not before possible
  • Provide the necessary training to increase the number of experienced, safe drivers on the road
  • Tackle the delays in obtaining a CDL
  • Reduce the overflow of low-quality training that results in higher numbers of less qualified drivers
  • Expand opportunities for underrepresented populations to access good truck driver jobs

While there are both proponents and adversaries of this new plan, we will just have to wait and see what happens. For years, there have been so many complaints and concerns over the driver shortage, yet raising pay, increasing home time, and supplying new equipment hasn’t changed the scarcity across the trucking industry. This apprenticeship program could solve problems in a way that has never been attempted before, while also providing further training to drivers at a younger age, strengthening the pool of driver applicants.

“There is more credit and satisfaction in being a first-rate truck driver than a tenth-rate executive.” – B.C. Forbes