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Pilot program allowing 18-year-old long-haul truck drivers could boost industry

A new apprenticeship program could mean more truckers, but questions remain around program

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A Schneider truck drives on Highway 41 in Wisconsin
A Schneider National truck is seen along Highway 41 Friday, May 9, 2008, near Richfield, Wis. Morry Gash/AP Photo

A Wisconsin trucking CEO said a new program permitting 18-year-olds to travel across state lines may help boost his company’s apprenticeship opportunities.

A provision in the bipartisan infrastructure law that passed in late 2021 allows 18-year-olds to become interstate truckers. Formerly, truckers needed to be 21 years old to do that work.

Green Bay-based Schneider trucking has long struggled to hire as many drivers as demand would support. Speaking on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Morning Show” on Thursday, Schneider CEO Mark Rourke said the new program will help.

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“We don’t have a great apprenticeship program to take somebody right out of high school and build their skills,” Rourke said. “It’s a positive development.”

The pilot program became law in January, but there are plenty of questions remaining about the program’s rollout, especially around safety concerns. Rourke said it remains to be seen how insurance companies price insurance on younger truck drivers. High insurance premiums could continue to keep recent high school graduates off the road for interstate travel.

There are more than 300,000 long-haul truck drivers in the United States, and as in many industries, companies like Schneider have struggled to hire. The median salary for the job was about $48,000 last year; some truckers earn considerably more than that but may be responsible for considerable maintenance costs to their trucks if they are owner-operators. It can also be a challenging job requiring long driving hours, and the risk of crashes can make it a dangerous job as well.

Rourke said supply chain disruptions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and outsized demand for some products has made this “the most disruptive period” in his 35-year career. He said he expects it to take through the end of this year for the “chaos” in the logistics industry to ease.

Schneider has done “a lot of work on adjusting wages, a lot of work to adjust schedules, to be more friendly to … life balance” to try to attract more drivers, Rourke said. Schneider and other companies have partnered with technical colleges on programs aimed at attracting drivers to the industry.

More broadly, the trucking industry has long pushed for a federal law to lower the age for potential drivers. In 2019, a congressional report found that young commercial drivers are more likely to be involved in crashes than older ones. Trucking industry lobbyists noted that 18-year-olds are already allowed to drive tractor-trailer trucks; they just can’t cross state lines, making them ineligible for long-haul jobs.

The federal pilot apprenticeship program requires 400 hours of additional safety training.

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