I-Team: Proposal would allow young truckers to cross state lines

The News Center 7 I-Team is examining safety concerns surrounding a federal proposal to allow 18, 19 and 20-year-olds to drive tractor trailers across state lines.

The proposed pilot program has sparked a debate between supporters who say tireless training requirements will answer safety fears while helping with a driver shortage. While opponents feel the move would make local highways more deadly.

Click here to read more about the program and learn how you can submit your opinion to the federal government for consideration.

Trucking Industry: The Case for Job Creation With New Safety Measures

Currently, Ohio is one of 49 states where, starting at 18-years-old, a commercial driver’s license, or CDL, can be obtained. However, these young truckers cannot drive across state lines until age 21.

If the pilot program is passed, it would effectively make all ages long haul truckers. The younger 18, 19 and 20-year-old truckers, however, would not be able to tow hazardous materials.

The American Trucking Associations support the young-driver pilot program.

“We believe there is a safe enough way to do it,” said Bill Sullivan of the American Trucking Associations.

Sullivan said the industry is facing challenges hiring the next generation of long-haul truckers – estimating a 60,000-driver shortage.

“We came into the pandemic with a need to put more men and women in the seats, uh, behind the wheel of trucks,” Sullivan said.

20-year veteran driver Joseph Pryor put it this way.

“They need the drivers. They’re real short on drivers,” Pryor told the I-Team.

In 2020, those drivers were more essential than ever. Sullivan said this program creates careers, keeps America running, and can be done safely by passing a corresponding apprenticeship law called the Safe Driving Act.

Last month 117 US supply chain industry leaders sent a letter to Congress urging them to pass the legislation.

To qualify for the apprenticeship program, drivers would have to have 400 supervised training hours and would only be allowed to drive the trucks with the latest technology.

Kevin Burch, Dayton’s MTS Trucking Vice President, told the I-Team’s Gabrielle Enright, he supports the pilot program.

“With the proper training, we really feel this is an opportunity for some students that are coming out of high school to have a career and have a good career,” Burch said.

Burch also said he does not currently hire 18, 19 and 20-year-olds because most of his business crosses state lines. However, he would hire younger drivers if they could cross state lines.

Opponents: Pilot Program Would Lead To More Highway Deaths

On October 14, 1993, United States Marine Corps Cpl. Jasen Swift, 23, was riding with a fellow service-member through the Nevada desert on their way back to base.

“By the time they came up on it, it was too late,” said Russell Swift, co-chair of Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT).

In the predawn darkness, they never saw the tractor trailer.

“They were both killed immediately,” Swift said.

To Russell Swift, 27 years has done little to dull the pain of his son’s sudden passing.

“When it happened, you wonder why, how did it happen, why did it happen, did it happen to my son?” Swift said.

The why is still hard to explain. The semi driver was just 17 years old. He wasn’t supposed to be behind the wheel.

“He turned 18 years old after the crash,” Swift said. “He was afraid to ask his boss what to do next, and he screwed up, and it got my son and his friend killed.”

The semi was stuck across the highway after the teen made an illegal U-turn.

“A short time after that, we attended a meeting of Parents Against Tired Truckers and we became involved,” Swift said.

Groups like PATT advocate for better safety measures, preventive technology and stronger trucking industry regulations.

Swift calls the young long-haul trucking pilot program proposal dangerous.

“They’ll die on the highway and they’ll take more of us with them,” Swift said.

Federal Data: Young Drivers More Likely To Be Involved In Crashes

The I-Team reviewed National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data. It showed younger drivers are more likely to be involved in crashes.

2018 NHTSA numbers show drivers under 21 were involved in 12 percent of crashes, even though they make up just a little more than 5 percent of all licensed drivers.

In Ohio that percentage was even higher in 2018.

Ohio State Highway Patrol numbers, the I-Team obtained, show young drivers were involved in 13 percent of all 2018 deadly crashes, accounting for 147 deaths.

Young Truckers: Current Rules Hurt Job Prospects

Clark State Commercial Vehicle Instructor and Commercial Transportation Training Operation Manager William Weekley told the I-Team each year about 100 people get their CDL through the college’s training class.

However, Weekley said fewer than 10 are under the age of 21.

“It’s not real common. We get maybe four, five, year per year,” Weekley said.

19-year-old dump truck driver Holden Nease is one of them.

He says even though he has his CDL, he feel the current law is limiting his job options.

“Me not being 21, I can’t go out of state, but they can,” Nease said. “I just feel like it should be one way or the other.”

However, Weekely’s 19-year-old student Lucas Yoesting says he understands why some people have deep concerns.

“Because if you mess up at all and you hit someone. There’s a good possibility you’re going to kill them,” he said.

Both Sides: Safety Is Key To Understanding The Debate

After losing his son, there is nothing anyone can say to convince Russell Swift having truckers under 21 cross state lines is a good idea.

“We’re going to be the guinea pigs on the highway to see if the system works. Your family and my family are gonna be out there with them to see if he can do the job, right. We’re, he’s, we’re the ones being tested. Can we get out of his way before he kills us?” Swift said.

But for those desperate to hire, they are convinced the safety answer lies in training.

“So we’re talking about 400 hours of supervised training, on top of that, of mentorship, on top of that with four safety technologies as a requirement,” the American Trucking Associations’ Sullivan said.

Matthew Simon

Matthew Simon

I'm proud to lead the I-Team, News Center 7's investigative and special reports unit. During my 20 yrs in the business, I've always admired WHIO-TV as the best in the business. I couldn't resist the opportunity when WHIO-TV recruited me to join their team as Special Projects Executive Producer. Watch my in-depth I-team reports on News Center 7.