Act of Faith

Allowing your child to drive is an act of faith accompanied by parental terror. For most of us, however, this ritual is inevitable.

What may not be inevitable — but nonetheless a frightening possibility — is that an 18-year-old soon may be able to get behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler. While this is not a current practice, it is being considered by the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in Washington, D.C.

A pilot program to train 1,000 18- to 20-year-olds has been proposed by the Alexandria, Va.-based Truckload Carriers Association (TCA), in response to the problem of recruiting qualified truck drivers. TCA president Bob Hirsch says the association has designed a “thoughtful and comprehensive program,” with 48 weeks of classroom training, driving instruction and supervision. Hirsch says its objective isn't to change the federal age requirements for commercial truck drivers, but to address the difficulty in finding qualified drivers.

Unfortunately, the lack of qualified truck drivers isn't the only trend affecting this issue. TCA's proposal comes at a time when the changing economy is causing insurance rates to rise, and allowing 18-year-olds to drive trucks only will exacerbate the problem. A driver's age is one of the key factors that drive rates up, according to “Why Are My Insurance Rates Going Up?” which begins on page 64 in this issue.

The article's author says that insurance companies have found younger drivers often are more aggressive, which can lead to more serious accidents because of their lack of experience. As a result, “many insurance companies will not insure a commercial driver who is younger than 25 or has less than three years of commercial driving experience.”

And, if all this wasn't enough to think about as you scramble to collect and transport the trash, FMCSA also is considering holding a commercial truck driver accountable for certain accidents in any vehicle [see “Proposed Highway Safety Rule Gets Tough on Commercial Drivers” on page 25 in this issue]. Some consider this “feel-good legislation” to be redundant, having the same affect as many state laws. Nevertheless, the rule, if passed, is bound to affect your ability to find drivers.

Do these factors lead to the inevitable conclusion that we need 18-year-olds driving big trucks? Not necessarily. Maybe the industries that depend on truckers should better address the reasons why they aren't attracting enough qualified applicants. Is it the image, workload, pay or something else?

Even if the TCA's program is approved, at the very least, these select young adults should be monitored closely during their first couple of years of driving.

You wouldn't do any less for your own child, would you?