Safe or Scary? 18-year-olds Could Soon Be Driving 18-wheelers in NJ
Question: would you feel safe knowing that an 18-year-old could be behind the wheel of the tractor trailer that's driving next to you in New Jersey?
That's the question that's being asked as a pilot program for people under 21 -- and as young as 18 -- to become truck drivers in New Jersey and across the country begins.
The U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Labor recently announced the Biden-Harris Trucking Action Plan as a way to clear-up recent bottlenecks in supply chains and to help lower the cost of the things we all pay for.
One part of that plan, on paper, is simple: get more people, in this case, younger people, interested in trucking, so more trucks will be able to move more things. The more things move, the less empty shelves we will all face. The more stuff we can buy, the cheaper things will be.
But we're still talking about people between the ages of 18 and 21 driving really big trucks.
Now, strict safety rules will be in place. For example, this program is limited to only 3,000 apprentices at one time. Those under 21 can't transport hazardous materials, people, or drive tanker trucks, nor can they go over 65 MPH. During an initial probation period, a fully licensed driver has to be in the passenger seat of the truck for, in some cases, nearly 300 hours of training. And then after all of that, young drivers will still be monitored until they turn 21, according to a report in the New York Post.
That's all well and good, however, those under the age of 21 seemed to be physically, socially, emotionally, and technologically tethered to their cell phones 24 hours a day. Can the trucking industry hammer-home that you can't drive an 18-wheeler in one hand while you're texting with the other?
A big truck is a big responsibility.
On the other hand, this could be an excellent opportunity to get thousands of people into a career field that needs an influx of younger adults.
Assuming they can put their cell phones down.
While having never been a trucker myself, I have driven across 26 states. Having driven from New Jersey to New Mexico and back, I can tell you I have a greater appreciation for the different parts of this country than had I just read about it in a text book.
But the question does spark an interesting debate. The next time you find yourself barreling up the New Jersey Turnpike or Interstate 295 going (slightly) above the speed limit and you are inches away from a 40-ton truck, would you be comfortable knowing there could be a 18-year-old behind the wheel?