The House rejected an amendment on Wednesday to block teenagers from driving trucks, clearing the way for an effort to lower the minimum age of truck drivers on interstate trips from 21 years of age to 18.
The chamber rejected an amendment to the $325 billion highway bill that is being considered this week that would have eliminated the language lowering the minimum truck driver age from the road funding legislation on an 181-248 vote.
Supporters of the amendment had argued that the proposal to lower the minimum of truck drivers should be studied more by the Department of Transportation.
"Interstate highways are already dangerous enough," said Rep. John LewisJohn LewisBudowsky: High stakes drama for Biden, Manchin, Sinema Stacey Abrams backs Senate Democrats' voting rights compromise Senate Democrats unveil new voting rights bill MORE (D-Ga.), who authored the defeated amendment.
"Given the higher accidents and fatality rates of younger drivers, it makes no make sense to make this change without looking at all of the data," he continued.
The proposal to lower the minimum age of truck drivers was included in an earlier transportation funding bill that was approved by the Senate in July. Republicans in the House argued Wednesday the idea is a modest effort to address a driver shortage that trucking companies have complained has hampered cargo movement in the U.S.
"This amendment would strike a limited pilot program that is authorizing drivers over 19 1/2 to enter into a graduated program to obtain a commercial driver's license," Rep. Sam GravesSamuel (Sam) Bruce GravesHouse passes 0B package, hoping to sway infrastructure debate GOP lawmaker points to Colonial Pipeline as infrastructure vulnerability Gas shortages spread to more states MORE (R-Mo.) said.
"What's interesting about the way present law is [written] is that a driver that's over the age that's being discussed here can drive all the way across the state of Missouri, for instance, but they can't drive 10 miles in the city of Kansas City because it's across state lines," Graves continued. "It doesn't make a whole lot of sense and it actually hampers a whole lot of business out there."
Truck companies have pushed for the minimum age of interstate drivers to be lowered because the shortage of truck drivers has reached 48,000 as older workers retire at a faster clip than younger replacements are coming on line.
“The ability to find enough qualified drivers is one of our industry’s biggest challenges,” American Trucking Association President Bill Graves said in a statement about the driver shortage last month.
Democrats argued Wednesday that it is too risky to turn the wheels of big rigs over to teenage drivers, however.
"Ask any parent, they know young drivers do not always listen, even when an experience is in the front seat," Lewis said.
Republicans countered that several states already allow teenage truck drivers to get behind the wheel.
"What we're trying to do with this amendment is just allow those drivers to cross state lines," Graves said.