ATLANTA — As part of a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, truck drivers under the age of 21 will soon be able to cross state lines.
The apprenticeship program will require commercial truck drivers, ages 18 to 20, to complete 400 hours of on-duty time.
Apprentices will partner up with an experienced driver, and the truck must have safety systems in place including active breaking collision and video capabilities.
“Let’s have a sense of urgency. Let’s implement it right now, get it going and solve the problems we have,” said Gov. Brian Kemp. “They tucked it into the infrastructure bill. You haven’t heard a word about it. It was a pilot project, but my point is we can’t wait.”
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According to the American Trucking Association, there’s a shortage of 80,000 drivers. For nearly two months, Channel 2 Action News has reported on the mountains of containers stuck at the Port of Savannah.
While the governor said the program will help alleviate the backlog, not everyone agrees.
“They killed my son,” said Russ Swift.
Swift lost his son in a crash involving a semi-truck in 1993.
“I don’t disagree that they’re 80,000 drivers short. I disagree that teenage drivers will help. I disagree teenage drivers are the answer,” said Swift.
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Numbers from the National Safety Council show more than 5,000 people died in large truck crashes nationally in 2019, which is a 36% increase since 2010.
“I’m afraid those statistics are going to rise as soon as this pilot program goes into effect,” said Swift. “I’m more than afraid. I know it’s going to happen.”
Two weeks ago, Channel 2′s Chris Jose reported on the truck driver shortage. Jose visited a class at Chattahoochee Tech as students trained on an obstacle course.
The extensive two-month program, which includes classroom and field instruction, averages two dozen students per semester. Some are hired within 24 hours after completion of the program.
“They are getting commitment letters, letters of intent before they ever reach the point of graduating the program,” said program director Judy Doggrell.
Doggrell told Jose the apprenticeship program will help mitigate the driver shortage for the long term. The Georgia Motor Trucking Association agrees.
“People should understand there are 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds driving trucks today in Georgia, in Atlanta,” said Ed Crowell.
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Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety argue that allowing truck drivers under the age of 21 to cross state lines is dangerous.
“Putting teenagers behind the wheel of 80,000-pound rigs just doesn’t make any sense, especially at a time when 5,000 people are being killed every year in truck crashes,” said Cathy Chase. “It’s a very well-known fact teenagers are one of the most dangerous driving populations in our country.
“There are bigger problems with the supply chain and this Band-Aid solution is going to result in a bloodbath on our roads,” added Chase.
Truck drivers under the age of 21 won’t be able to cross state lines until the federal government finalizes rules and regulations. No timeline has been set.
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