A Republican-sponsored bill in Congress would expand a pilot program under the FAST Act to allow drivers under the age of 21 who have commercial drivers’ licenses to drive large trucks across state lines, including in Tennessee. The previously passed pilot program allows drivers between the ages of 18 and 21 who are military veterans to drive commercial trucks across state lines, but other people in the age group may not. While the bill’s backers claim that the expansion is warranted because of the shortage of qualified truck drivers for the trucking industry, drivers in this age group have been shown to have higher risks of accident involvement. The passage of this bill might mean that there would be a corresponding increase in the truck accident injury and fatality rates in Tennessee and in the rest of the nation.
What the Wheel Act Would Do
In 2016, Congress passed the Fast Act. This law established a pilot program through which minors between the ages of 18 and 21 who were veterans and who had CDLs were allowed to drive for trucking companies in interstate commerce. However, other drivers in the same age group who were not veterans but who did have CDLs were not allowed to drive across state lines. The Wheel Act, which is sponsored by Representative Claudia Tierney, R-New York, would expand this demographic to include anyone who is between ages 18 and 21 as long as they had clean driving records, CDLs, and certificates showing they completed safe driving courses. Tierney says that the expansion is needed because the trucking industry is expected to have a shortage of 175,000 drivers by 2024.
Why the Wheel Act Should Not Pass
The bill and its sponsors are focused on the trucking industry’s interests rather than on the public’s welfare. Teens are less experienced drivers, and statistics have demonstrated that younger drivers account for far more injury and fatality accidents than older drivers. Allowing drivers who are younger than age 21 to drive commercial trucks is likely to cause an increased number of truck accidents as well as a corresponding increase in injuries and fatalities. It is unclear whether this bill will pass, but public safety could be at risk if it does.