Will Letting Teens Drive Big Rigs Be the Solution for the Trucker Shortage?


Nowadays, even people who aren’t fully involved in the supply chain know that we have a shortage of labor in the trucking industry. Can the solution for this be young adults driving trucking rigs worth thousands of dollars between states?

Currently, 49 states plus Washington, D.C. allow people who are under 21 to get a commercial driving license, which allows them to operate trucks within state lines in large states such as California and Texas. With the new program, those young operators will be able to operate their vehicles between state lines. Back in October 2021, the American Trucking Association (ATA) advised that the trucking industry needs at least 80,000 drivers and with this new program, commercial license owners between the age of 18 to 21 will be able to operate under the direct supervision of an experienced driver.

It is safe to say that there are many that oppose the idea of an 18-year-old driving 75,000 to 80,000-pound rigs and their numbers are not small. The Truck Safety Coalition has publicly expressed its discontent and objections to the program pointing out the increased ratio of injury crashes operated by teen drivers. A study conducted by the University of Michigan shows that there is a 500% increase in injury crashes for truck drivers younger than 21 compared to truck drivers overall.

It looks like most apprentice drivers can easily complete the program before turning 21 and can drive a semi-truck without any safety equipment required by the program. The chief public concern is that this will create a major safety hazard, especially considering the long working hours in the trucking business and the lack of decent pay. It is safe to say that young people tend to push their limits compared to experienced drivers and this can lead to many disastrous scenarios.

So, what is the solution to the trucking problem considering the risks of the new young driver program?

It’s clear that truckers are not paid enough for the tough schedule and conditions they endure. With job opportunities opening in the many industries which provide better returns, truckers are simply refusing to work for lower rates. With the current port congestion situation, incentives for getting cargo to its destination as quickly as possible or waiting in line for hours to be rewarded with minimal pay is just not feasible anymore.

If big commodity traders/suppliers do not pay truckers accordingly, this issue will not be resolved anytime soon and will continue to hurt the commodity trade since relocations of products are already happening. Another solution is procuring a small fleet to conduct business, but the majority of the commodities are moving with small margins. So, an investment for this scale is unlikely. Since ports are making a lot of profits with demurrage/detention/storage costs, they are not inclined to find a solution to this major crisis.

At the end of the day, the real solution lies within better pay/benefits and working hours.

These solutions don’t even consider the stress that the global Covid pandemic has created for working-class people. Covid is also a big factor that once it recedes will help improve things. It is safe to say that as long as people are getting paid accordingly, congestion will go away on its own.