Pilot Program to Lower the Age of Truck Drivers May Put the Public at Risk  

July 20, 2021

Truck Drivers
Truck Drivers

It takes a tremendous amount of training and skill to operate an enormous commercial tractor trailer. In the wrong hands, a vehicle this large can become a deadly weapon. It is important that every truck driver is professionally trained and prepared to operate these imposing and dangerous vehicles.

In an effort to alleviate a nationwide truck driver shortage, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) launched a pilot program in fall 2020 allowing drivers under 21 years old to operate commercial trucks interstate. While that may seem like a good solution to the shortage, it also raises concerns about the ability of younger, inexperienced individuals to make sound decisions behind the wheel of a large truck. When trucking companies cut corners and hire novice and unqualified drivers, all motorists and pedestrians are at risk.

Driver Shortage Opens the Door for Less Experienced Drivers

As of 2019, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that there are more than two million people driving large trucks in the country. While that seems like a lot of drivers, it is actually 61,000 short of the number of drivers that are needed, and that shortage is likely to grow in the near future. One estimate predicts some 100,000 drivers will be needed every year going forward to answer the demand for industry growth and to replace drivers aging out of the workforce. To address the truck driver shortage, the FMSCA created a pilot program for younger truckers.

Under the FMSCA pilot program, drivers between 18 to 20 years old can participate if they meet one of the following conditions:

  • Licensed drivers between 18 to 20 years old who operate commercial motor vehicles (CMV) in interstate commerce while simultaneously taking a 120-hour probationary period, followed by a 280-hour probationary period under an employer-established apprenticeship program.
  • Drivers between 19 to 20 years old who have been driving CMVs within state boundaries for at least one year and 25,000 miles.

According to the FMSCA, the novice driver program will allow the agency to carefully examine the safety and feasibility of young and inexperienced drivers.

What is the Drive Safe Act?

The Drive Safe Act is a bipartisan bill currently pending in Congress that mirrors the FMSCA pilot program. It requires drivers between 18 to 20 years old to complete 120 hours of on-duty time, with at least 80 of those spent driving a CMV. The bill also requires an additional 280-hour probation period, where the apprentice driver is accompanies by an experienced driver.

Under the Drive Safe Act, employers are responsible for determining the competency of apprentice drivers. While apprentice drivers who are involved in a truck accident would not be automatically disqualified from the program, they would have to complete additional training under strict supervision.

Safety Concerns About Younger Drivers

While the pilot program for younger drivers may seem like a practical solution to the nationwide driver shortage, many in the industry are not fully convinced it will be valuable. In fact, 83 percent of drivers responding to a poll for CDLLife said they do not believe the interstate driving age should be reduced to 18 years old. Respondents cited abbreviated training programs, driver maturity, and exorbitant insurance rates among their top misgivings about the pilot program. Some feel that drivers should be at least 25 years old to operate a commercial tractor trailer across state lines.

Most drivers will concede their skills have improved with experience. The same is true for commercial truck operators. Some of the ways younger, inexperienced drivers may cause truck accidents include:

  • Distracted driving
  • Drowsy driving
  • Forgetting to check blind spots
  • Not adjusting to hazardous road conditions
  • Not properly maintaining their truck
  • Overloading trucks
  • Speeding

Who is Liable for a Truck Accident in Virginia?

In Virginia, motor vehicle accident insurance laws employ a fault-based system. A party is considered at-fault if they act careless or negligent in some way, and that negligence causes an accident. The at-fault party is financially responsible for any injuries and damages the other party sustains. This is true for all types of motor vehicle accidents, including those involving commercial trucks.

To prove negligence for a truck accident under the law in Virginia, it must be shown that:

  • The commercial truck driver owed a duty of care.
  • They failed to uphold this duty.
  • That breach of duty caused a motor vehicle accident.
  • Another party suffered physical injuries, property damages, or other losses in the accident.

Per federal hours-of-service regulations, commercial drivers carrying property are required to take a 30-minute rest break after eight hours of cumulative drive time among other restrictions. Suppose a driver is in a hurry to drop their cargo ahead of schedule because their employer promised a bonus for an early delivery. In the last portion of the trip, the driver begins daydreaming, yawning, and eventually nods off behind the wheel. For those few microseconds, the driver loses control and drifts into the other lane, hitting another vehicle. The passenger driver may suffer from serious injuries, some of which may be lifelong. For this reason, it is important to abide by hours-of-service regulations. Failure to do so can cause catastrophic injuries.

In the case of the drowsy truck driver, the circumstances of the crash meet the threshold of liability in Virginia. The driver had a duty to rest in order to act safely. Since the truck driver did not uphold the duty of care, they are deemed at-fault. The truck driver’s negligence directly caused the collision and the other motorist’s damages.

In this case, the driver is at fault, but this case is unique because the driver’s employer seemed to encourage them to skirt the hours-of-service guidelines by encouraging them to forego rest breaks, despite the obvious risks. A lawyer may file a claim against the driver and the boss in this case.

Truck accidents can involve several liable parties, including:

  • Driver
  • Driver’s employer
  • Truck manufacturer
  • Truck maintenance company

Truck accident claims are especially complex because of the many different parties involved. Anyone who has been hurt by a negligent truck driver or a defective vehicle should contact a local lawyer with a track record of success resolving tough accident claims.

Good legal representation is essential to ensure the right party is held accountable for a truck crash. If trucking companies are going to hire younger drivers, they must be responsible when that inexperience employee endangers others.

Virginia Beach Truck Accident Lawyers Represent Clients Injured by Inexperienced and Unqualified Truck Drivers

The push to hire younger truck drivers with less experience is likely to put other motorists at risk. For accident victims, it can feel very overwhelming dealing with powerful trucking fleets and their insurance companies, but an experienced Virginia Beach truck accident lawyer can help. At East Coast Trial Lawyers, we have an entire legal team available to assist you with your case. Call us at 757-352-2237 or complete our online form to schedule a free consultation and to learn more about your case. We are located in Virginia Beach, and we serve clients throughout Chesapeake, Eastern Shore, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Suffolk, Virginia, as well as North Carolina and nationwide.

301 Bendix Road, Suite 460
Virginia Beach VA 23452
Ph: 757-352-2237 | Fax: 757-352-2220