Senator Says Bill To Lower Cross-Country Driving Age Won’t Pass Unless…
Washington D.C. – U.S. Senator John Tester (D-MT) is a co-sponsor of new legislation that would provide 18 to 20 year-olds the opportunity to operate big rigs across state lines, but based on comments he made this week in a Senate hearing, the bill could be in peril.
The Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy Act (DRIVE-Safe Act), would eliminate the federal age restriction on interstate transportation.
Under the legislation, a driver as young as 18 years of age could operate a big rig in interstate commerce.
Optimism among supporters was high after the new bi-partisan iteration of the legislation was introduced earlier this year.
Speaking at an event in Anderson, Indiana on Friday, March 1, hosted by Carter Express Inc., Senator Todd Young, who is also a co-sponsor, said he was “hopeful” the legislation would be passed “fairly soon.”
Young commented, “This is not an election year, so I think we have a window of opportunity here over the next six to nine months to get some bi-partisan legislation passed.”
However, it seems support may not be as broad as supporters once believed, or at least expressed.
During a Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing this week, Senator Tester seemed to indicate the only hope for the bill’s passage is to win the support of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
In an interesting exchange with FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez, Tester urged Martinez to lead the agency to endorse the legislation or else it would likely fail.
“You guys try to come forth with an idea on whether you are going to support that (DRIVE-Safe Act) or not because, I will tell ya, if the department doesn’t support it, we are not going to get it passed, in my opinion, because everybody is concerned about safety,” Tester stated.
Martinez explained the agency does not take positions on specific legislation because that is not its role in government.
However, the FMCSA boss indicated his belief that restricting 18 to 20-year olds from driving cross-country is an antiquated regulation due to advances in technological safety systems.
“It makes you scratch your head,” Martinez said.
“The rule has been in place since the 1930s. It deserves a good hard look now because things have changed. We have new technologies that may be able to monitor and tell us not all drivers under the age of 21 are the same,” he elaborated.
Under-21 Military Pilot Program Isn’t Going To “Tell You What You Need To Know”
Tester also questioned the feasibility of FMCSA’s Under-21 Military Pilot Program which the agency says will help it gather more data on the safety of putting 18 to 20-year-olds in big rigs driving cross-country.
“If you’re looking to get accurate information, that pilot program isn’t going to tell you what you need to know, I hate to tell ya,” Tester opined.
He argued that young drivers with experience in the military “aren’t 18 anymore.”
Plus, Tester contended most military personnel who have experience driving large vehicles are “probably already eligible to drive across state lines” because they are at least 21 years of age.
“I understand that, and it’s one of the challenges of the pilot program, honestly” Martinez responded.
Further, Martinez conceded getting the needed 200 applications to conduct the program was going to be difficult.
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