Legislature votes to lower age for commercial truck drivers; bill on governor’s desk

Eighteen-year-olds in Alabama soon could train for a career as a tractor-trailer driver under legislation on the governor’s desk.

HB479 by Rep. Dexter Grimsley, D-Newville, allows those between age 18 and 21 to seek a Class A commercial driver’s license to operate tractor-trailer or tank vehicles inside the state lines if the loads are not hazardous or oversized. Wednesday, the bill cleared the Senate on a 24-0 vote. The House passed it earlier 96-1. If the governor signs it, the new law would be effective Feb. 7, 2020. The Senate companion bill was SB318 by Sen. Donnie Chesteen, R-Geneva.

The new drivers must meet training and testing guidelines set forth by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency. Under current state law, drivers must wait until they are 21 in Alabama to seek such a license. Forty-eight states allow 18-year-olds to have commercial driver’s licenses restricted for use within the state.

Many potential truck drivers in Alabama are lost to other industries by the time they reach the age of 21, contends a coalition of business groups that supported this legislation, including the Alabama Retail Association. This legislation will allow Alabama retailers that rely on trucks to move goods to better compete with surrounding states that do not have the same age restrictions.

Meanwhile, pending federal legislation and a pilot program announced on the Federal Register this week would open interstate commercial driving to younger drivers. Nationwide, interstate, or cross-country, commercial driver’s licenses are only available to those 21 or older.

The DRIVE-Safe Act –  HR1374S569 –  would create an apprenticeship program for under-21 drivers to be able to drive commercial vehicles across state lines. Alabama U.S. Reps. Mike Rogers, Mo Brooks and Bradley Byrne are co-sponsors of the House bill, which has been assigned to the Highways and Transit Subcommittee of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Wednesday, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration published a notice on the Federal Register about a pilot program that would allow non-military 18- to 20-year-olds to drive commercial vehicles engaged in interstate commerce. Comments on that program are due July 15. The link to the Federal Register notice has information about how to file comments. 

This article is part of the Alabama Retail Report, a communication for Alabama Retail Association members. Not a member? Join us!

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