If An 18-Year-Old Truck Driver Comes to Pick Up Your Shipment

It appears that few carriers are interested in training and hiring truck drivers younger than 21 years old. But that is okay, because it also appears that not many young people are interested in becoming a truck driver anyway.

As John Gallagher reported in FreightWaves last month, “The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration says only 113 motor carriers have applied for its under-21 truck driver apprenticeship program since the agency began accepting applications in July 2022, a dismal sign for an initiative that had been expected to recruit up to 1,000 carriers and 3,000 drivers.” As of February 2024, FMCSA has only approved 34 of the applications. Some of the applications were rejected because they did not meet FMCSA’s safety performance criteria.

Here’s another excerpt from the article:

In a report covering FY2021 — also submitted to Congress [in April 2024] — FMCSA provided similarly lackluster results for an under-21 CDL pilot program it launched in 2019 and completed in August 2021 for those that had been in the military.

“Despite significant outreach and recruitment efforts, only a very small number of drivers participated” in the under-21 military program, FMCSA stated. There was not enough interest from the intended participants in operating a CMV in interstate commerce as a profession to justify continuing the program.”

How comfortable would you be having an 18-year-old truck driver transporting one of your loads across state lines?

We asked members of our Indago supply chain research community — who are all supply chain and logistics executives from manufacturing, retail, and distribution companies — that question back in December 2021. Less than half the respondents (46%) said they would feel “Very Comfortable” (26%) or “Comfortable” (19%), while 30% said they would feel “Slightly Comfortable” (15%) or “Not Comfortable At All” (15%). 

Source: Indago survey, December 2021 (n=27)

“This is a terrible idea,” said one Indago supply chain executive member. “Commercial driving is a difficult job and shouldn’t be handed to someone fresh out of high school. It’s not a job that should be taken lightly and it’s a difficult life for anyone who does take it up. Instead of lowering the age limit we should be looking for ways to make the career path easier and attractive for new talent.”

Another member, however, had a different perspective:

“To my knowledge, commercial trucking is one of the few trades (perhaps the only one) that doesn’t allow a young person to start some sort of apprenticeship before the age of 21. The candidate population for this career are the same young men and women who might also be looking to become an electrician, a plumber, or some other skill-based trade. By the time the brightest candidates are 21, they have already commenced on another path, and we’ve lost the opportunity to get them. Also, my response about comfort level is predicated on the assumption that the 18 yr. old is in a structured apprenticeship program and has a qualified ‘master’ driver sitting next to him.”

Based on the data from FMCSA, it looks like the “brightest candidates” of potential young truck drivers are more interested in becoming plumbers, electricians, or something else. And that’s fine with carriers too because there seems to be little interest in hiring drivers under 21 years of age.

If you believe there is a truck driver shortage (a debatable topic, as highlighted in the posts below), then you should probably scratch “lower the minimum driver age” off the list of possible solutions. The more likely solutions are driverless trucks and collaborative shipping.

What do you think? Does the FMCSA data surprise you? How comfortable would you be having an 18-year-old truck driver transporting one of your loads across state lines? Post a comment and share your perspective.

Links to posts related to truck driver shortage: