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Is lowering legal driving age the answer to trucker shortage?

Young drivers have a right to be on the road. The law in the state of Texas says so. But the law also includes a process called the graduated driver license program. The aim is to make sure that drivers grow into the privilege by restricting when they can drive and whom they can have in the vehicle with them. While they may be 16 when they first are licensed, the full fruits of having a license don't get realized until they're 18.

The reasoning behind the GDL is hard data. The federal Department of Transportation has collected information that shows that even though the number of fatal vehicle crashes involving teens has been declining since 2002, they are still responsible for a great number of deadly accidents.

Indeed, the DOT's Fatality Analysis Reporting System reflects that in 2013, the rate of fatal accidents for drivers 18-20 was 66 percent higher than for drivers aged 21 and over. And it is in the shadow of that data that safety experts object to a proposed measure in Congress that would allow drivers 18-20 to drive semitractor-trailer trucks on interstate long hauls. Right now a person has to be at least 21 to drive big rigs across state lines.

Trucking industry officials say that age limit means high school graduates who might consider getting into trucking are going elsewhere. They say the ranks of drivers who can haul interstate are dwindling and so lowering the age would help make up for a major projected driver shortage.

Everyone in the industry does not necessarily share that view. At least one retired trucker who got his start when he was 16 suggests a bigger issue facing the industry is sagging compensation. He says it's a tough life and the pay isn't what it used to be. Today, he says it's not worth it to get into the business.

Regardless of how the driver shortage issue gets resolved, those experienced in dealing with tragic vehicle accidents will remain prepared to go to the legal mat for those who have suffered financial, physical or emotional loss as a result of others' negligence.

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