After months of wrangling, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed a multi-year highway funding bill, hours before the existing highway spending bill was set to expire. The bill underwent a series of dramatic amendments and changes over the course of months spent before legislators. Fortunately, a number of proposed changes to existing federal regulations that trucking safety experts speculated would have been bad for driver safety ultimately failed to become a law, including a measure discussed on this blog that would have allowed for a five-ton increase to the current tractor-trailer weight limit.
One change to existing regulation on interstate travel, while substantially altered from its original effects, provides for commercial truck drivers under the age of 21 to cross state lines. Currently, individual states are permitted to set their own age limit for commercial truck drivers, but any drivers under age 21 were not permitted to cross state lines in the course of making a delivery. In order to address a reported shortage in the number of available commercial long-haul truck drivers, the trucking industry has long been pushing for the federal government to lower the age at which commercial truck drivers can take loads across state lines, and until the past few days, appeared to have been successful.
The current highway funding bill had been passed by both the House and Senate with a provision that would create a pilot program permitting states to enter into “compacts” allowing commercial drivers who were 18 or older to cross their state lines. This program was slated to last for four years, at which point the Department of Transportation would report on whether the teen drivers appeared to be equivalently safe to older drivers. However, in a last-minute alteration, the highway bill ultimately passed by legislators limits the program’s participation to military service members and veterans aged 19 ½ to 21.
Advocates of the change argued that teens are already driving commercial trucks across states such as Texas and Virginia and that barring them from crossing state lines added unnecessary complication and expense to transporting goods. Absent, however, was support from the public or highway safety advocates, one of which labeled the program a “catastrophe waiting to happen.” According to the Department of Transportation’s Fatality Analysis Reporting Program, the fatal crash involvement rate among truck drivers aged 18-21 was 66% higher than drivers aged 21 and up. When considering the mental acuity and decision making demands required of drivers of these mammoth 80,000 lbs. vehicles alongside the continuing brain development and sleep needs of teens, a lowered age limit for licensees seems, at minimum, to require greater research before implementation.
If you’ve been hurt in an accident with a semi, tractor-trailer or big rig truck in New York’s Hudson Valley, contact the experienced truck accident law firm Basch & Keegan for a consultation, at (845) 251-4545.