Should teenagers be allowed to get behind the wheel of big rigs?


My response to an article from a recent NPR story about the campaign to lower the age to earn a commercial driver’s license.

See> To Get Big-Rig Drivers, Senate Bill Would Give Keys to Teens

Notice I used the words “earn”.

My answer? No.

My reason > Because, I think CDL licensing should be a graduated process for the adults who are being recruited now. The stages of learning and responsibility should come in phases. I also do not believe that the commercial driver’s license learner’s permit should allow new drivers to also get their hazardous materials endorsement processing before they have even passed the skills test to drive the truck in the first place. It’s unfathomable to me that few people realize this.

Training carriers bring in hundreds of new CDL Trainee’s each week and most of them get poor and unsafe training. For women this sometimes means sex assault. There is no accountability of the mega training carrier’s turnover, there are no exit interviews of the trainees, and there are no caps on how many students can be recruited each year.

The industry that has a despicable 100% turnover rate and congratulates itself when it dips (according to them) to the high 80’s is never asked why it should continue to be fed students of any age when they are not able to be retained. Would you send your child to an academic school that has a failure rate of 80 to 100 percent without wanting to know what the problem is and how it is being corrected?

Why would anyone want to send a student of any age through a training system like this?

In the trucking industry, the solution is to launch a campaign to have access to indoctrinate teenagers.

Entry-level driver training is primarily handled by a handful of carriers that are doing it badly. Rather than teach, they use student truckers to move team freight and pay them below minimum wage for over 70 hours a week of work. 70 hours is only what is logged, more work is completed off of the logbook and is entirely unpaid. That sounds more like a reason an industry could be running out of qualified candidates to me.

Teenagers are not new to truck driving; there are many seasoned drivers who learned to drive a big rig when they were under the age of 21 which is the current licensing law. Times were different then though and the training carrier phenomenon that exists now had not been born. These were teens that grew up around big trucks and farm equipment. They had one-on-one mentors and a long period of time with a family member, spouse or friend who taught them the skills they needed to become a qualified driver. This is not possible today.

Many truck driver trainers nowadays have just barely started driving themselves. They will only have a student with them for less than two months. Mostly, the student will not be getting any one-on-one training. They will be operating the vehicle alone while the trainer sleeps so that the truck can transport freight on a “team” truck schedule.

Teenagers today are also much different than they were 20 or 30 years ago. Our culture is different. Rural teens as compared to urban teens are also very different with regards to their exposure to the operation of large equipment. Trucking companies have trouble finding drivers because they want to pay drivers with the skill and experience, peanuts. Seasoned drivers know how to stand up for themselves when they are being pushed to violate safety regulations, inexperienced drivers are easier to manipulate.

The trucking industry is running low on people to recruit into meat grinder companies so now they have their eye on teenagers.

Would you want your teenager to work in one of the top 10 most dangerous jobs when you knew the training they would receive is sub-standard?

It’s true that there are many truck drivers who will be retiring in some sectors from good paying jobs but to get one of those jobs you must first get experience. The industry needs to look at itself, and ask why qualified drivers are not being produced from the incredible number of student truckers that are already entering the system.

Perhaps I would support an intrastate teen CDL training program with “on the job” opportunities from area businesses that would take the teen directly from a technical school or community college program that is certified by the Department of Education.

Without investigating true causes of turnover (churning) in training carriers it makes no sense to continue to feed the monster a younger aged demographic.

Desiree Wood
Truck Driver
REAL Women in Trucking, Inc.
The REAL Women in Trucking Inc. is a 501 (c) 6 association that was formed by REAL professional truck drivers that promote safety and wish to improve poor and unsafe entry level truck driver training.