Bill pertains to intrastate commerce and carries restrictions
By Al Muskewitz
Wright Media Editor-in-Chief
PELHAM, Ala. – Frank Filgo’s 24-year run as president of the Alabama Trucking Association wraps at the end of July and he’ll walk away with a win.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey earlier in the week signed into law a bill that allows drivers under the age of 21 to obtain a CDL-A license to operate commercial vehicles for intrastate commerce.
The bill, which overwhelming passed both houses of the Legislature, was officially signed May 23. There was a ceremonial bill signing on May 29.
While the bill may not do a lot for the long-haul carriers, it could help them in the long run by providing them a pool of experienced drivers sooner rather than later – or not at all before the measure was passed – which Filgo said “is big time for us.”
It’s a measure Filgo and the ATA have been advocating for a long time and it comes to fruition just as he steps into retirement.
“There were a lot of groups pushing that bill, we were fortunate to be one of them,” Filgo said before stepping into Friday night’s ATA Truck Driving Championship banquet. “But we wrote the bill and we wanted to say what we needed to say. And we delayed implementation until February 2020 because that’s when they become a little bit more stringent of entry drivers and we thought that was necessary for this age group.”
There are several restrictions attached to the new law: Limited to CDL-A only; no hazmat or passenger endorsements; no oversize or specially configured loads requiring a permit from ALDOT; limited to commercial driving within the state of Alabama.
It is not immediately known how in-state trucking companies will prepare for the potential influx of younger drivers. Many interstate carriers already have hiring restrictions on age and experience so the new law isn’t likely to impact them. It’s more likely the impact on the OTR segment will be felt 2 to 5 years after the after the law goes into effect when the experienced young drivers it creates will be looking to expand their career opportunities.
With the law set to go into effect in 2020, there is time for carriers and schools to set up training programs to accommodate any influx of young drivers while turning them into truck drivers and not just steering wheel holders.
Troy Trantham, vice president and general manager of Trantham Services in Alexandria, Ala., said the new law won’t affect his operation today, and because of the nature of his company’s services he’d be hesitant to put an inexperienced driver behind the wheel of one of his trucks, but he is glad to see the law passed for the future of the industry.
“I’ve actually been a proponent for that,” he said. “If you stop to think about it when our kids are in high school and getting out of high school they can go to a trade school and learn a trade, but in the past you can’t drive a truck until you’re 21.
“Well, by the time they’re 21 they’re already welders, electricians or well on their way through their apprenticeship for whatever trade it is. But in the trucking industry we’ve always had this minimum of 21. Well, with the driver numbers going down as they are, I’m glad to see it (signed) because we’re actually going to increase our drivers by getting our people when they’re younger and saying this is a good career for somebody who wants a trade.”
Matt Frazier, director of safety, compliance and security for Montgomery Transportation, believes the law can only help the industry that is facing a driver shortage that could reach well over 100,000 in just a few years.
“One of the biggest downfalls in the industry right now is we’re losing drivers,” he said. “You get a kid who graduates high school he’s going to do one of two things: He’s either going to go to college – and he’s probably not going to be a truck driver if he goes to college – or they go into a vocation. We’re losing that three-year time period.
“So being able to get them straight out of high school and get them in the truck, get them the proper training and all that, it can only help the industry.”
The bill, which passed both houses 120-1, goes into effect Feb. 7, 2020, leaving Hawaii as the only state in the union that restricts intrastate commerce to drivers 21 and older carrying a CDL-A.
The measure is expected to be a boon to Alabama utility operators and beverage haulers, while giving younger drivers needed experience before meeting the over-21 threshold for interstate driving.
“This legislation is a win-win for motor carriers, shippers and consumers,” Filgo said when the bill’s passage through the legislature was announced. “The ongoing truck driver shortage, now estimated to be more than 60,000 nationally, is a burden to the economy. With the passage of the bill, additional drivers will help advance long-term, sustainable profitability for Alabama motor carriers and suppliers.”
If Filgo’s tenure has a legacy, it’s the strong presence the ATA has built in Montgomery. Passage of the entry driver law is just one of the initiatives they've championed on behalf of truckers and the industry in the state.
“I think our reputation in Montgomery, representing the trucking industry, has grown significantly,” he said. “There has never been an anti-truck bill passed in the last 24 years. The reason for that is not because of anything I have done, but because we have educated people as to the value of trucking to the economy.”
Filgo’s successor, Mark Colson, comes on board June 1 as president-elect and assumes full responsibilities in August. His vision is to extend the visibility and momentum the industry and its brand has gained around the state.
“This is a great business to be in,” Colson said. “People who’ve been in it know it and been experienced to it. We need to make sure that people who don’t understand the importance of this industry see it that way. We’ve got to do whatever we have to do to make sure this industry gets the respect it deserves.”
Are you an 18-20-year-old currently driving a truck within your state just waiting for that magical "21" to expand your career? Want to share the experience of what it's been like waiting? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to share your story.
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