Okay, as far as news in politics goes, the passing of the new highway-funding bill definitely isn’t the sexiest topic—particularly when you think of all else that is going on, like the presidential race, the shooting in California, and the new Greek budget and the Lake Chad suicide bombings.
Nonetheless, the highway-funding bill (officially called the FAST act) is actually the most pertinent piece of news regarding our everyday lives. So in that light, I think that it ought to be talked about a little bit, as it contains some provisions that the majority of you probably aren’t aware of.
So, what exactly is the FAST act? Well, as are all of the bills that Congress devises, it is rather complicated legislation that, simply put, provides a long-term budget that funds the repair/construction of the American transportation infrastructure. Over all, it is widely heralded as a progressive, bipartisan agreement, and for the most part I agree. For the past dozen-or-so years, the incompetence of Congress has been epitomized in its inability to pass any sort of long-term budget to keep our roads up to date. Instead, Congress has had to rely on passing last minute, short term highway funding extensions (36 of them, according to Reuters).
All of those short-term, provisional budgets proved very inefficient. Many projects couldn’t get the money that they needed and all of the operations were slow going. Therefore, nobody can dispute that the FAST act is beneficial in that regard–well-kept roads and faster construction projects are good for everybody.
But the bill covers far more than merely the method of paying for our highway maintenance. It changed up how much the government gives to major banks, how much of our petroleum reserves we will be using, and who can work as a truck driver in the United States.
And the bill’s impact on the third of those issues is what gives me pause. Although we don’t really pay it much mind, the trucking business in America is gigantic. American Trucking Associations statistics reveal that it is a $600 billion-dollar industry that employs over 3 million drivers. Currently, by law, you must be at least 21 years of age to attain a CDL license and work as an interstate trucker. However, the FAST act is probably going to make it so that 18 year olds can start driving truck across state lines—and I really do not think that’s the best idea.
Think about it. Semi trucks are everywhere, they are big (weighing in at 80,000 pounds) and they are very dangerous. Most of us are pretty desensitized to their presence sheerly because we are so used to sharing the road with them, but they are very serious safety hazards. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that semi trucks cause one in every ten traffic related deaths—and the vast majority of those that end up dying are civilians, in standard cars.
Now think if 18 year olds took to the roads in 80,000-pound trucks. According to the CDC, 16-19-year-old males account for more traffic accidents than any other demographic (and keep in mind that trucking is an extremely male-dominated line of work). Is it really in our best interest to have 18-year-old men driving 80,000 pound trucks for hundreds of miles, all across the nation? Personally, I think not. Why let the most accident-prone group of drivers get behind the wheel of a big rig?
The trucking industry’s interest in letting 18 year-olds-work is probably stems from the current labor shortage with which they are grappling—but letting younger drivers drive trucks isn’t the answer. Currently, the bill is only experimenting with drivers under the age of 21, restricting the privilege to military veterans. I don’t mind people from the military driving if they are under 21, as they typically have past experience operating large vehicles. But to potentially lower the age requirements for the general public would be bad news for everybody on the road.