Veteran trucking exec Shevell rips ‘absurd’ plan to allow teenage truck drivers

A pilot program that would allow teenagers to drive an 80,000-pound truck in interstate commerce is one of the worst ideas to solve the driver shortage, a top trucking executive with six decades experience in the industry says.

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A pilot program that would allow teenagers to drive an 80,000-pound truck in interstate commerce is one of the worst ideas to solve the driver shortage, a top trucking executive with six decades experience in the industry says.

Myron P. “Mike” Shevell, chairman of the Shevell Group that operates New England Motor Freight on the LTL side and Eastern Freightways in the truckload market, tells Logistics Management the proposal “a horrible idea.”

Shevell, 83, got his start in the trucking industry at 16 helping make pickups and deliveries in and around his native Perth Amboy, N.J., for his family’s trucking company.

But he hardly recommends teenagers driving in today’s crowded highways as any reasonable solution to the driver shortage, currently pegged at 52,000 by American Trucking Associations estimate.

“With the situations with accidents, you are just adding to the problem by allowing people under 21 to drive a big rig,” Shevell told LM. “It’s very, very bad and it’s a serious problem. You are just piling on more problems on top of a horrible situation with this idea. Anything can happen.”

As part of the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, the Department of Transportation announced on July 3 that a pilot program will allow “a limited number” of individuals between the ages of 18 and 20 to operate large trucks in interstate commerce. The teenagers must possess the military equivalent of a CDL and be sponsored by a participating trucking company, the DOT said.

Shevell says he wants no part of the pilot program for any of the companies he controls.

“The roads are horrible—congested, crowded and bumper-to-bumper most times of day in the areas where we primarily operate in the Northeast,” Shevell told LM. “If you’re going to be brining on drivers 18 to 21 years old, it’s just going to make things worse.”

Backers of the idea emphasize the drivers will operate in “a controlled environment” with mentors helping out along the way. Shevell immediately discounted that notion.

“First, I don’t know how you control the environment on an interstate highway,” Shevell said. “It’s a different ballgame from the training schools to an interstate highway. The congestion is mind-boggling on the major corridors. It’s horrible.”

It is unclear exactly how many 18-to-20 year-olds will participate. The notice of proposed rulemaking issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration says it is seeking “200 drivers from at least 70 trucking companies” to participate in the pilot. The safety record of those 200 under-21 drivers will be compared with those of a control group of 200 other drivers to see whether the program will be continued or expanded.

FMCSA has admitted “there may be an experience gap” between the skills of an experienced, over-21 truck driver and the under-21 military veterans who may take advantage of this experiment.

No kidding, Shevell says.

“No offense against the military veterans and I thank them from the bottom of my heart for their service, but this is a whole different ballgame,” he said.

There is no reliable data on heavy truck accidents involving licensed truck drivers under 21 currently involved in intrastate driving. But leaders of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) have all joined forces with rail interests to defeat any expansion of this program past the initial 200 or so applicants.

Todd Spencer, president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, recently said there “really isn't any question” that younger drivers are going to be involved in serious crashes. He called the pilot program “absurd.”

The Shevell Group, in coordination with other carriers, already operates about 10 driver training schools from which the carriers train their rookie drivers. But Shevell said even with pay topping out at around $85,000 for veteran drivers, many younger drivers quit within the first six months.

Money is the chief reason young drivers quit, Shevell said. Average starting pay for a driver is about $43,000, according to ATA data. But it’s not just lack of money that’s driving people out of the industry, Shevell said.

“It’s also about lifestyle and respect,” he said. “When you’ve been in the industry 60-plus years as I have, you see the difference. I was a truck driver, and they used to be treated like knights of the highways.

“Now they are treated very poorly as second-class citizens. All this stuff builds up in people and finally it’s like a bubble bursting. I don’t see it (driver shortage) going away with a flick of a pen (legislation). It’s going to take time and a lot of work.”

John Kearney, CEO of Advanced Training Systems, a leading designer and manufacturer of virtual simulators, said part of the problem was generational. Figures from the American Transportation Research Institute show that one in four of today’s drivers are 55 years of age or older.

“The industry needs to recruit younger drivers, and doing that will require the kind of high-tech, high-quality training that younger candidates expect,” Kearney said.

A key element both in attracting younger candidates and producing safe, road-ready drivers, Kearney says, is the growing use of simulator training as an adjunct to traditional behind-the-wheel (BTW) instruction. Just as in military and airline pilot training, the use of a simulator can teach the proper response to events too rare or too dangerous to be included in BTW instruction—for example, a steering tire blowout or an unexpected patch of black ice.

Simulators have also proven themselves valuable in teaching more everyday trucking skills. A recent study has found that driving simulators can be as effective as a live teacher in training truck drivers for tasks such as backing and shifting gears. Simulator training also offers benefits from a cost-effectiveness perspective; one major trucking and logistics company reports a savings of $40 an hour in fuel costs.

“As in practically every area of digital technology today, rapid improvements are being made in driver training simulators,” says Kearney.

Still, in the meantime, most major trucking companies are turning down freight loads during this peak season because of lack of drivers.

“Truthfully, I don’t know where all these people will come from that we need,”
 

Shevell said. “For every one person we hire, two retire and another one quits. And the one we hire quits after a week.”


About the Author

Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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