Putting teens behind the wheel of big rigs to help shortage of truck drivers

Teenagers will soon be behind the wheel of interstate big rigs, as part of a government mandated study. The amended measure is part of a $305 billion long term transportation bill that was released Tuesday.

In earlier versions approved by both the House and Senate, the minimum age of interstate truck drivers would have been reduced to 18-years-old as part of a pilot program.

On Tuesday, House and Senate negotiators released a final version of the bill that included an amended version of the measure. It limits the pilot program to veterans and members of the military who are at least 19-years-old.

The trucking industry has been pushing for a change in the law, which currently requires drivers crossing state lines be at least 21-years-old.

Bill Collins with Interstate Truck Driving School in South St. Paul says he still has reservations about teenage drivers, but thinks the benefits outweigh the risk.

“The trucks are sitting, the freight is sitting, but there are no drivers to fill the positions to haul the freight,” he said.

Collins says there has been a truck driving shortage for decades, and it’s slowing cargo transport in the US.

If the government eventually decides to lower the age requirements for interstate truck driving, he would like to see implementation of even stricter drug policies.

“The only thing I’m concerned about is the behavior of the young people graduates towards chemical use, experimentation with that,” he said. “If they were to ask my advice, I would suggest more random drug and alcohol testing for this younger group.”

Since graduating high school, 34-year-old Ranson Reyes has had many career changes. He currently drives smaller trucks within state lines and expects to double his income by receiving a license to drive semi-trucks.

“[The trucking companies] come in almost every day and try to recruit us to work.”

He says he supports lowering the age requirement for interstate truck drivers.

“As long as they do schooling and pass the test, I think anyone should be able to drive.”