GRANDVILLE, MICHIGAN (WOOD) – After several years of student life that was online, Max Chambers heard road calls.
“Traveling on the highway sounds fantastic,” said the 22-year-old Chicago resident.
These days, he is driving a semi-truck, learning to drive an 80,000-pound hippopotamus in traffic and practicing the art of moving a 70-foot large platform into a narrow loading platform.
Chambers is due to complete the Western Michigan CDL driver training program in Grandville on Friday.
With a shortage of drivers across the country, he is confident he will find work.
“It will just make it easy to get a job and I am very excited about the future,” Chambers said.
It is this need to fill vacancies for truck drivers that has prompted the federal government to change the rules as to how young a young person is when it comes to interstate truck drivers.
Part of the November three-year Infrastructure and Labor Investment Act Safe Driver Training Program allow teens 18 to 20 who already have a CDL to cross state borders.
“It will open up new opportunities for these guys,” said Mike Birdsall, president of the West Michigan CDL.
Most states, including Michigan, already allow the younger age group to get a CDL to drive trucks in the state.
“I think there will be a small influx of 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds. We trained them all the time. They just restricted driving in Michigan, Birdsall said.
But critics are trying to slow down the pilot program by embracing the idea of putting behind the wheel of a large truck an 18-year-old boy who has had a driver’s license for just two years.
The Coalition for Road Safety, a group advocating for victims and families of truck accidents, has asked Transport Minister Pete Butigig in a letter to stop the program after the first death or injury involving a young truck.
“The vast majority of available research shows that teenage truckers, like young drivers in general, are much more likely to be involved in accidents than their older counterparts,” the letter said.
The full letter can be found at trucksafety.org.
But Birdsall is less concerned, noting that candidates need a clean driver’s license, and other security measures are needed for the pilot program.
“I think a lot of them can handle that,” Birdsall said. “(There will be) some who can’t. To be able to drive on interstate roads, it will be based on a good driver for the time when they had current rights. ”