What Are The Chances Congress Passes Bill Aiming to Lower Interstate Driving Age to 18?
Washington D.C. – Newly re-introduced legislation is aiming to allow 18-year-old’s with a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to operate cross-country, but what are the odds it passes this time around?
Earlier this month, a bi-partisan group of U.S. lawmakers once again introduced the Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy Act (DRIVE-Safe Act), which would eliminate the federal age restriction on interstate transportation.
The group of sponsors, which includes eight U.S. senators and nine members of the House of Representatives, argue the bill is needed to ease the so-called “driver shortage.”
While 49 states currently allow individuals to obtain a CDL and operate large commercial vehicles before they turn 21, federal regulations prohibit those same drivers from crossing state lines until they turn 21.
“The DRIVE-Safe Act will eliminate this ridiculous regulation and in doing so address the driver shortage while providing new career opportunities for young Hoosiers,” Senator Todd Young (R-IN) said when re-introducing the bill.
Specifically, under the legislation, a qualified under-21 driver must complete at least 400 hours of on-duty time and 240 hours of driving time with an experienced driver/trainer in the cab.
Additionally, all trucks used for training in the program must be equipped with NTSB-endorsed safety technology including active braking collision mitigation systems, forward-facing video event capture and a speed governor set at 65 miles per hour.
Will past be prologue?
To examine the probability of the DRIVE-Safe Act passing both chambers of Congress and making it to President Joe Biden’s desk, let’s first take a look back at why the bill failed the last time.
When the DRIVE-Safe Act was introduced in 2019, despite all the positive rhetoric by Sen. Young and other sponsors, the bill essentially crashed and burned due to safety concerns.
As evidence to this, Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), who is again one of the bill’s sponsors, had an interesting exchange with then-Administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Ray Martinez during a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing in June of 2019.
Tester urged Martinez to break with long-standing FMCSA policy of not weighing in on pending legislation and endorse the DRIVE Safe Act.
“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.
The lack of overall support for the DRIVE Safe Act in Congress led American Trucking Association’s (ATA) CEO Chris Spear to famously sound off on the issue during a Senate Transportation and Safety Subcommittee hearing in February of last year.
In an unscripted response to a question from Sen. Young about the bill, Spear called the federal regulation prohibiting under-21 drivers from operating in interstate transportation the “dumbest policy I’ve ever seen.”
“What I want to know is where is everybody that’s opposing this bill?” he frustratedly questioned. “Where were they on the 49 states that allow you to drive 850 miles in California, but you can’t go 10 miles from Providence, RI into Rehoboth, MA?”
What is different this time around?
Democrats now control the White House and both chambers of Congress instead of only the House as they did in 2019.
Most political analysts do not believe this bodes well for the prospects of the DRIVE-Safe Act since Democrats tend to favor more safety regulations than fewer; however, this may be a simplistic view.
U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Secretary Pete Buttigieg has already signaled his willingness to discuss the issue.
“Providing career pathways for our younger Americans is essential to building a stronger economy and stronger communities,” he said in a written answer to questions during his Senate confirmation hearing. “I look forward to working with you and FMCSA on ways to increase opportunities within the trucking industry without compromising our safety standards.”
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A grand bargain?
As Transportation Nation Network (TNN) has extensively reported, the Democrats’ plans for the trucking industry include: mandating speed limiters, incentivizing the widespread adoption of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) such as automatic emergency braking (AEB), requiring front and side underride guards on all heavy-trucks, and increasing the liability insurance minimum from $750,000 to at least $2 million.
The DRIVE-Safe Act is supported by a powerful coalition of nearly 90 companies and trade associations including the ATA and the Truckload Carriers Association.
Democrats could use the DRIVE-Safe Act as a carrot in a much larger “grand bargain” with trucking stakeholders on the list of issues above.
Provisions of the DRIVE-Safe Act could also get rolled into either the expected $3 trillion infrastructure bill or the surface transportation reauthorization legislation expected later this year.
TNN will be watching it closely.