Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Biden administration releases trucker teens to ease supply chain troubles

The Biden administration is about to launch an apprenticeship program to allow 18-year-olds to get jobs as truckers despite a steady rise in fatal crashes over the years.

The trucking industry has long been pushing Congress to lower the legal age for interstate truck driving from 21 to 18, and last year lawmakers introduced an apprenticeship program as part of a bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Freight carriers have been complaining for years that they can’t find enough drivers, though economists say the perceived shortage is due to low wages and harsh working conditions. Expanding the talent pool to include younger drivers will help companies avoid higher wages.

Members of Congress took complaints about a “lack of drivers” at face value, and the White House openly embraced the prospect of lower labor costs while lowering consumer prices.

“The reason this was included in the bipartisan infrastructure bill is because we need to address the lack of drivers, which of course affects the movement of goods and then the cost of goods on the shelves,” the press said. White House Secretary Jen Psaki. this week.

This week, the administration announced a safe driving education pilot as one of several pieces of an infrastructure bill due to go into effect, including $27 billion to fix bridges across the country. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has said that sometime in the “near future” it will create a website with information about the young driver education program.

However, Zach Cahalan finds the administration’s use of the word “safe” in the program’s name offensive.

“I understand that the administration should comply with the law passed by Congress and run this apprenticeship program, but there is no reason to call it safe,” said Cahalan, director of the Truck Safety Coalition, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization. “It’s pig lip makeup. They are gaslighting the American people.”

How Congressional Research Service notes, “Research consistently shows that young commercial vehicle drivers, like young drivers in general, are much more likely to be involved in crashes than their older counterparts.” Between 2009 and 2019, the number of fatal truck and bus accidents increased by 47%, according to the agency. latest FMCSA numbers.

Trucking argues that a lower interstate age limit won’t make highways any less safe. The key is that 18-year-olds are already allowed to get a commercial driver’s license and drive big trucks in almost every state – they’re just not allowed to cross state lines until they’re 21.

“In practice, this means that a 20-year-old woman can drive her truck thousands of miles across a large state like Texas or California, but she cannot lift or drop a load one mile across a border in a neighboring state. American Trucking Association spokesman Jeremy Kirkpatrick said in an email.

The pilot program requires 400 hours of additional training, much of which is provided by an experienced driver, Kirkpatrick said, and requires trucks to be equipped with advanced safety features such as active braking and video cameras.

But the argument that the program will simply allow seasoned 18-year-old drivers to finally cross state lines doesn’t make it clear how it actually changes jobs, said Steve Viscelli, a trucking economics expert at the University of Pennsylvania. Driving within state lines usually means coming home every night; Driving on the Interstate can mean long trips away from home, with a greater chance of fatigue.

“These drivers will drive irregularly for weeks and sometimes months,” Viscelli said. “It’s a fundamentally different kind of work.

Transportation companies and merchandise distributors were unanimous in their support for the program, while safety advocates opposed it, calling it an industry giveaway that compromises safety.

“The reason for the lack of truckers is that it’s a crappy job,” said Joan Claybrook, former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and former director of the Public Citizen good government group. “These truckers are quitting because they are forced to drive – and Department of Transportation regulations allow them to drive – 77 hours in seven days. This is not life.”

AMENDMENT: A previous version of this story described the Truck Safety Coalition as a lobbying group. In fact, it is a non-profit organization that does not lobby the federal government.

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