When it comes to operating commercial vehicles or 18-wheelers, it is important to have someone who has the critical thinking, fast reaction skills, and the experience of driving on our nation’s highways. With our country’s shortage of truck drivers, however, trucking companies and even the government are looking into ways in which they can increase the number of drivers. This includes making it legal to hire teens to drive these huge vehicles.
While this may sound like a good way to help the nation’s truck driver shortage, having inexperienced drivers on the road operating these difficult-to-maneuver vehicles could make our roads more dangerous, not only to other drivers, but for the teens themselves. Teenagers are more susceptible to making mistakes than a more experienced driver, such as becoming distracted with music or their phones, or failing to recognize a possible danger on the road.
What is the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program?
On January 14, 2022, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration officially announced the establishment of its new Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program. This program will allow truck drivers aged 18 to 20 with a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to haul cargo across state lines.
The pilot program is an apprenticeship that consists of two probationary periods; one probationary period that lasts 120 hours, and one that lasts 280 hours. Each period “includes minimum hours of driving time with an experienced driver and performance benchmarks. In addition, the CMVs to be operated during the pilot program must be equipped with specific vehicle safety technologies.”
There are some who support the program, stating that the younger drivers will not only flesh out the tractor-trailer driver population, but that young drivers are good for the aging trucking population that will soon be retiring. However, the program also has its detractors, pointing out that truck drivers already take special training and need experience to operate safely and properly, and that teenagers would not be ready to take on such responsibility. Missouri truck driver Brandon Wilkonson said of the program, “All of these young people or most of them are playing with their phones and distracted when you’re hauling 80,000 pounds… It’s not a fender bender, it’s a total car, it’s people dying.”
What are the dangers of teenage truck drivers?
Many teens find they can, and are able to, drive a four-door sedan perfectly well, but operating a tractor-trailer or other large commercial truck is not an easy thing for even experienced truck drivers to do. Expecting teenagers to have safe control over these unwieldy vehicles, which are far heavier and bigger than the average car, might be asking too much. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, car accidents are the second leading cause of fatalities among teenagers in the United States.
Opponents of the apprenticeship program are concerned that younger, less experienced drivers may be more apt and susceptible to:
- Distracted driving: The CDC reported that in their 2019 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey 39% of high school students used their phones while driving, including reading/replying to/ writing texts and emails.
- Inexperience: With less experience under their belts, teenagers are far more likely than their more experienced and older drivers to recognize and analyze dangerous or hazardous situations, which can lead to injuries for others and themselves.
- Speeding: Combining teenagers, speeding, and commercial trucks is a recipe for disaster. As teenagers are more likely to allow shorter headways than adults, speeding can be a sure way to get into an accident. Headways is the distance from the front of one vehicle to the rear of the next. The CDC reports, “In 2019, 31% of male drivers aged 15–20 years and 17% of female drivers aged 15–20 years who were involved in fatal crashes were speeding.”
- Drug/substance abuse: The CDC also mentioned in 2017, 13% of high school students drove when they had been using marijuana. Marijuana affects the brain in a major way, causing negative effects such as poor judgment, decreased motor coordination, and slowed reaction times. This sort of drug, along with alcohol which has similar effects, should absolutely not be used before driving, especially an 18-wheeler. Drug and alcohol abuse are already common among adult truck drivers, so it is not the best idea to bring in teenagers who are already so at risk for abusing and misusing alcohol and drugs.
Why are commercial trucks so dangerous?
Tractor-trailers, also called 18-wheelers and semi-trucks, are dangerous vehicles to begin with, especially at highway speeds. It can be intimidating to drive near big trucks, and it is a good idea to give them as much room as possible when passing, or when they are passing you. These enormous vehicles, often weighing tons of pounds of substantial metal, can cause you severe injuries if you are ever involved an accident with one of them.
Accidents with trucks tend to cause more deaths and catastrophic injuries than the passenger vehicle, as the car will take the brunt of the impact from the large truck. An 18-wheeler can clip another vehicle, send it careening into the guardrail or another car, and not even notice a thing.
Reasons like this is why trucker negligence is a huge risk to other drivers around them. Truck drivers need to be extra careful regarding:
- Vehicles entering and exiting their blind spots.
- Loading cargo into their vehicles or trailers, to ensure nothing spills.
- Road gradient changes, which can make it more difficult to slow down or stop.
- Tighter turns. The trailer can swing around and hit other cars, or get stuck, blocking traffic and possibly causing further accidents.
- Tire pressure and condition. Blowouts can cause a tire to fly off the truck and possibly hit another driver. It can also cause the truck to skid, sliding into traffic and causing a serious accident. The blind spots on trucks are larger than the blind spot of the average car, increasing the risk of a crash.
Tractor-trailers, with their large blind spots, heavy and huge trailers that are difficult to control, are not meant to have inexperienced drivers who are not ready to take on such a responsibility. There is a reason why driving a tractor-trailer requires a special license, and why for so long, the trucking community has traditionally hired older and more experienced drivers who can handle driving long hours on the road. One day, these young drivers will be ready to be behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler – but we’re just not sure that the time is now. There are just too many risks to allowing someone so inexperienced to drive a truck.
If you or a loved one were injured in a truck accident, the injury attorneys at The Hayden Law Firm can help. Call us at 314-480-3100 or fill out our contact form. We are based in St. Louis, Missouri, but our firm proudly serves clients throughout Missouri and Illinois.
Attorney Amanda L. Hayden has dedicated her legal career to fearlessly advocating for clients and their families after their lives have been devastated by the careless and/or reckless conduct of others.
Read more about Amanda L. Hayden