ALTOONA, Pa. (WTAJ)– The U.S is facing a shortage of about 80,000 truck drivers, but reinforcements could be on the way. The new Safe Drive Apprenticeship Pilot Program aims to help by allowing high school graduates to drive across state lines.

Before drivers under 21 years old were only allowed to drive within the state they reside in, which in many cases meant less of an income.

Bill Ward, the President of Ward Transportation and Logistics sees this program as a positive way to help expose the industry to a new workforce.

“We lose potential drivers to other trades,” said Ward. “Plumbers, electricians, other things like that and so allowing a high school student and recent graduate to come right out of high school and get the proper training to get their CDL has some real merit.”

With the Pilot Program allowing drivers ages 18-20 to travel across state lines, Ward says one of the concerns could be the liability factor.

“Anytime a driver gets in a truck and leaves the facility, it’s a huge liability” Ward said. “It will be interesting if insurance companies and ultimately jury’s view it as a bigger liability when someone 18-21 years old gets into a truck.”

Ward says driving a truck is like being in control of a missile and you need to make sure those young drivers in the program are responsible because that liability causes a problem with nuclear verdicts.

“Just in August of 2021 we saw the largest ever nuclear verdict against a carrier, $1 billion dollars and so that is something that we need to be very mindful of that it might make sense on paper, but if carriers have to assume additional liability that could be a real problem and hinder the pilot.”

Ward Transportation and Logistics is facing shortage of drivers and they currently have 120 openings, but he feels the Pilot Program will be able to help address the shortage.

“It’s severely impacted our ability to service our customers. It’s created an environment where we’ve had to increase wages, we’ve had to increase benefits to make our offering to driver candidates competitive, and in turn that has led to us to increase the rates of our customers.”

Ward says this will be a wait and see approach and that this probably won’t be a one size fits all solution to the truck driver shortage, but he hopes this is the start to addressing the issue.

Get daily updates on local news, weather and sports by signing up for the WTAJ Newsletter