The Biden administration is set to launch an apprenticeship program to let 18-year-olds take jobs as long-haul truckers, despite a steady increase in fatal truck crashes over the years.
The trucking industry has long clamored for Congress to lower the legal driving age for interstate trucking from 21 to 18, and lawmakers delivered the apprenticeship program as part of the bipartisan infrastructure bill last year.
Freight carriers have complained for years they can’t find enough drivers, though economists have pointed out that the supposed shortage results from low pay and difficult work conditions. Expanding the labor pool to include younger drivers will make it easier for companies to avoid paying higher wages.
Members of Congress took the “driver shortage” complaints at face value, and the White House openly embraced the prospect of lower labor costs reducing the prices of consumer goods.
“The reason this was included in the bipartisan infrastructure act is because we need to address the shortage of drivers which is impacting, of course, the transferring of goods and then the cost of goods on the shelves,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said this week.
The administration announced the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot this week as one of several parts of the infrastructure bill set to take effect, including $27 billion to repair bridges around the country. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said that sometime in the “near future” it will set up a website with information about the apprenticeship program for younger drivers.
However, Zach Cahalan says it’s offensive that the administration used the word “safe” in the program’s name.
“I get that the administration has to abide by the law that Congress passed and launch this apprenticeship program, but there’s no reason to call it safe,” Cahalan, director of the Truck Safety Coalition, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, said. “This is putting lipstick on a pig. They’re gaslighting the American people.”