The nation's dependence on truckers is skyrocketing. With online shopping in a state of explosive growth, companies are shipping more goods to more places than ever before. Unfortunately, this increased demand for trucking services hasn't led to more people deciding to become truckers. Despite hiking wages and recruiting outside of their normal applicant pools, trucking companies are increasingly desperate to find enough drivers to keep their fleets on the road. Some people have suggested allowing younger drivers behind the wheel as the answer, but questions remain about safety.
A Pilot Program
During an early July visit to Omaha, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced a federal pilot program designed to give younger military members a chance in the commercial trucking industry. Current laws stipulate that only people 21 and older with a commercial driver's license (CDL) can drive professionally across state lines, but the pilot program would expand CDL eligibility to 18- to 20-year-old veterans who have received equivalent training in the military.
If the pilot program is successful, it would go a long way towards expanding the pool of eligible truck drivers. However, “successful” is the key word. Data already exists on 18- to 20-year-old truck drivers who operate within state lines, and it suggests that they're four to six times more likely to be involved in trucking accidents. Proponents of the plan acknowledge that they will need to show these younger drivers can be just as safe as their more experienced counterparts.
Staying Safe On The Road
For the rest of us on the road, staying safe around big rigs is of paramount importance, especially as pressure mounts on the trucking industry to recruit more drivers. Here are some tips to follow when you encounter semis in your travels.
- Watch out for blind spots. Large vehicles have huge blind spots, especially on the right side opposite the driver. If you can't see a vehicle's mirrors, assume the driver can't see you.
- Practice safe passing. When passing a truck, don't pull back in front of it until it's clearly visible in your mirrors. Give them extra space.
- Beware wide turns. Trucks make wide turns, and will often swing far left before ultimately turning right. Give them the room they need and don't try to squeeze by before they've finished their maneuver. You might be encroaching on the exact place the trailer will be in a few moments.
- Don‘t tailgate. If a truck stops suddenly, the high clearance could mean that you'll end up directly beneath the trailer.
- Be patient. Trucks can't speed up or slow down as quickly as other vehicles. If you can't pass them safely, give them the time they need until you can.
Even with the proposed federal program, it's likely that trucker shortages will continue, which could lead to more inexperienced truck drivers hitting the roads. Pay attention, give trucks room and use common sense. Your safety depends on it.