By WILL WHATLEY, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – According to the Alabama Department of Labor, truck drivers are routinely one of the most sought-after positions by employers in the state. But with the passage of recent legislation, that could soon be a thing of the past.
The Alabama state legislature passed HB 479 this week, which lowers the age for obtaining a commercial driver’s license from 21 to 18. Sponsored by Rep. Dexter Grimsley, R-Abbeville, the bill was carried in the Senate by Sen. Donnie Chesteen, R-Geneva. The bill passed the House by a 96-1 vote on April 30, while the Senate passed the bill on May 15 by a 24-0 vote.
Grimsley said he brought the bill after hearing an outcry from the business community about a shortage of truck drivers in the state.
“This was something that would be a way to, in years to come, be able to have someone start at 18 and by the time they’re 21 be well trained and be ready to go into the truck driving market,” said Grimsley.
Alabama is currently only one of two states that prevents those under the age of 21 from obtaining a Class A commercial driver’s license. All new drivers must meet testing and training guidelines set by both the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency. Drivers between the ages of 18 and 21 are also prevented from operating a commercial motor vehicle that transports hazardous material.
Statistics from the Alabama Department of Labor show that there are 1,872 openings for truck drivers on its JobLink website, a free job board maintained by the state. These positions pay an average of $19.99 an hour.
However, not everyone is on board with the move to allow younger truck drivers on the open road.
Rep. Phillip Pettus, R-Killen, was the lone dissenting voice on the bill. He was over a CDL examination center in north Alabama and said there were so many bad drivers at age 21 that he was leery of dropping the age limit down to 18.
“I think lowering the age will put examiners at risk of injury,” Pettus said. “I just want the best drivers out there.”
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association also went on the record with FleetOwner.com to oppose a national pilot program that would allow drivers as young as 18 to operate in interstate commerce. The group believes that allowing these drivers on the road will be detrimental to highway safety because, according to research, drivers under 21 have shown to be more likely to be involved in crashes.
“If highway safety is the priority, the age should go up, not down,” said OOIDA President Todd Spencer. “Instead of efforts to entice the least experienced, the focus should be hiring and retaining the most experienced drivers, not expanding the funnel of driver churn.”
“It is a workforce development bill, plain and simple,” said Business Council of Alabama President and CEO Katie Boyd Britt in a press statement. “This commonsense legislation will open the door of opportunity for young adults who are looking to find a good paying job, and at the same time, it addresses a dire need for Alabama businesses that rely on trucks to move their products. I applaud Rep. Grimsley and Sen. Chesteen for their leadership in this effort.”
Along with the Business Council of Alabama, other organizations such as the Alabama Farmers Federation, the Alabama Trucking Association, the Alabama Beverage Association, the Alabama Retail Association, the Alabama Rural Electric Association of Cooperatives, Alabama’s chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, and Manufacture Alabama all supported the legislation.
“This legislation is a win-win for motor carriers, shippers and consumers,” said Alabama Trucking Association President and CEO Frank Filgo. “The ongoing truck driver shortage, now estimated to be more than 60,000 nationally, is a burden to the economy. With the passage of this bill, additional drivers will help advance long-term, sustainable profitability for Alabama motor carriers and suppliers.”
The legislation was sent to Gov. Kay Ivey’s desk on May 16 and is currently awaiting her signature.