The Smart Road to Younger Drivers

August 2015, - Editorial

by Deborah Lockridge, Editor-in-Chief - Also by this author

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Editor in Chief, Deborah Lockridge
Editor in Chief, Deborah Lockridge

You’re 18 years old and just graduated from high school. You can serve in the nation’s armed forces. You can marry your high school sweetheart and become a parent. If you commit a crime, you’ll be tried as an adult.

But you can’t legally deliver a load hauled by a commercial truck across a state line.

One of the many provisions in the recent wrangling over a highway bill is one that would address this issue. It would create a pilot program allowing contiguous states to form “compacts” that could drop the age requirement for interstate drivers operating between those states.

Of course, that sparked headlines such as “Teen Truckers Spark Worry” and “Teen Truckers May be Coming to a Freeway Near You.”

People opposed to the bill say teenage drivers are more dangerous, less experienced, too naïve... Yet they already may be sharing the road with such drivers behind the wheel of big rigs driving intrastate, as allowed in many states.

It’s true that teenagers typically don’t have the same level of judgment and experience as their older counterparts, especially behind the wheel. Statistics show drivers under 21 have a higher rate of fatal crashes. This is not something to take lightly.

That’s why any such pilot program should involve a graduated licensing system. Many states already have such graduated licenses for teen car drivers, restricting things such as nighttime driving until young drivers get more experience. The best approach to getting younger drivers behind the wheel of interstate trucks, in fact, would be more like an apprentice program.

Earlier this year, as part of our “Driver Dilemma” series on the driver shortage, I talked with Joyce (Sauer) Brenny, CEO and founder of Minnesota-based Brenny Transportation/Brenny Specialized. The 55-truck company has extremely low turnover and a stellar safety record, and it’s developed a program to hire and train 18-, 19- and 20-year olds.

Brenny’s program puts drivers with a commercial learner’s permit through 17 weeks of training before drivers do any runs on their own. They start out on short, cross-town runs and remain local drivers until age 21, and come in weekly for mentoring and feedback sessions. Even once they’re 21, a trainer goes with them on their first few over-the-road runs.

Con-way Freight has said if this measure were to pass, it would expand to younger drivers a program it already has, which hires candidates initially as dockworkers, and later places them in an in-house driving school for three months before they take their commercial driver license exam.

Beyond a graduated, training-heavy apprenticeship type program, regulations allowing younger drivers could require fleets to use safety and monitoring technologies such as collision mitigation or in-cab cameras.

Right now, an 18-year-old can drive a truck more than 600 miles from El Paso, Texas, to Dallas, but can’t cross the street to deliver that same load from Texarkana, Texas, to Texarkana, Ark.

Graduated licensing is proven and effective for reducing the risk of young drivers of passenger vehicles. Millions of drivers have gotten their licenses this way. With an unemployment rate for young adults nearly triple the national average, and the trucking industry facing a severe driver shortage, it’s time to try the same approach in trucking.

Check out HDT's Ongoing Driver Shortage Coverage

HDT's new Driver Shortage page includes up-to-date, in-depth articles, analysis and news about how the trucking industry is handling this difficult crisis. 


  1. 1. D [ August 17, 2015 @ 05:32AM ]

    You don't have to look any further than Europe. They have had a graduated commercial license system for years. It works extremely well.

  2. 2. Linwood Windsor [ August 17, 2015 @ 09:55AM ]

    Most local ads make not of 1-2 years of experience in the equipment. I have to see or hear anyone giving credit to the companies to allow the driver to get the experience and to move to the non training company,

  3. 3. Kurt [ August 18, 2015 @ 12:36PM ]

    One of the first things local schools cut when money got tight was Drivers' Ed. So if you want good drivers, you may need to start before they are 18! Has anyone ever heard of a commercial driving course at the high school level, similar to any vocational or trade courses?

  4. 4. Jim Southworth [ July 27, 2016 @ 06:55AM ]

    Ms.Lockridge, you ought to be ashamed of promoting kids at 18 years of age to be over the road drivers of semi's just so you can promote these line haul companies cheap labor. I legally started driving semi at 18 years old put in my time for three years of learning the ropes. I retired with 44 years and over 6.8 million miles on the road, so I do know what I am referring to. An 18 year old is not capable of being a competent semi driver. It doesn't take much intelligent to drive a truck
    ( you probably don't remember the television show BJ and the Bear but he had a monkey driving the truck which I'm sure was at least 21 years old ) but I can tell you over the years I made more money and a lot less silly rules they have come up with. So Ms. Lockridge I understand for your publication you are supported by these carriers that have to garner the cheapest labor for their bottom line. Just remember you are going to have except the tragedy which will occur if your group is successful at promoting such an idea.

  5. 5. Deborah Lockridge, Editor [ July 27, 2016 @ 06:56AM ]

    Jim, perhaps I did not get my point across well enough, but I don't advocate just letting 18-year-olds drive with no restrictions -- even though they already can do so if they stay inside their state's borders! What I would like to see is a graduated licensing program, an apprenticeship program, a training program that would prepare 18-year-olds better than when you were that age.

    (Actually, I do remember Bj and the Bear....)

  6. 6. Thomas J. Baer [ July 27, 2016 @ 06:58AM ]

    I enjoyed your article on 18 year old drivers and your thoughts on the driver shortage.

    Here in Maine we instruct young drivers and they can get close to 200 hours driving time with us for over 8 months in Career Technical Education centers. In Lincoln, Maine, I train approximately 12 boys each year along with four other CTE schools within the state of Maine who do the same amount or more. These young people get good positions and in the past ten years in Lincoln we've given over 25 companies good quality 18 year old drivers.

    It is interesting to note how many people think that 18 year olds are unemployable and poor drivers. We have two competitions here in Maine. We compete at high school level, and also at the Maine Professional Drivers Association Competition in Hermon, Maine. Both Maine Motor Transportation Association, and Maine Professional Drivers Association work in conjunction with one another to put on the competition. Randy Devault is the director of the events from MMTA. Several of the 18 year old competitors have actually received higher scores that drivers who have 2 to 3 million miles to their career in trucking in the competition.

    Many of the insurance companies don't acknowledge the facts of their driving ability, and they say that 18 year old drivers are accidents waiting to happen, when in fact these students in Vocational training are getting more hours driving than Private training facilities who train drivers. We train Loaded miles with our students. many more miles, and much more training than grown men who come out of training facilities

    It would be interesting facts for an article in the future, to let companies who are in need of drivers know where they can get drivers who want to drive for a rewarding future career from our CTE schools here in Maine.


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