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Some Express Concern About Prospect Of 18-Year-Old Drivers Being Allowed To Drive Semi-Trailer Trucks Across State Lines

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Concerns are mounting over the idea of 18-year-olds getting behind the wheel and driving semi-trailer trucks across state lines – in what is all a part of a new federal program aimed at easing a national driver shortage.

As CBS 2's Charlie De Mar reported Wednesday, 18-year-olds have long been drive semi-trailer trucks within the state of Illinois – so they can go 200 miles from Chicago to Springfield.

But they could not cross the state line just 20 miles from downtown Chicago in nearby Hammond, Indiana. The new federal program changes all of that.

Behind the wheel of some semi-trucks on Wednesday were students training to earn their CDL, or Commercial Driver's License.

Joshua O'Keefe hopes to soon be on the road in a truck of his own. He just turned 21, and he is exactly whom the trucking industry is looking for.

"I feel like the companies now, they want younger people," O'Keefe said.

"Young people don't want to get into this trade," said CDL instructor Krzysztof Hoffman. "Everybody's short – small, large, mid-size companies - everybody's looking for the drivers right now."

To address the shortage of drivers, a new federal program will allow 18- to 20-year-olds to cross state lines in a semi.

The trucks used will have automatic emergency brakes, forward-facing cameras, and a maximum speed of 65 miles per hour - and to start, an experienced driver riding shotgun.

Hoffman is a CDL instructor at Mid-City Truck Driving Academy. De Mar asked him if there was a reason to be concerned.

"Definitely – but as far as those guys driving next to me, you know, if they get proper training, why not?" he said.

"They don't have much experience behind the wheel at all, you know, and there's going to be a kind of a big, big change," said CDL specialist Phillip Kochanski.

Matt Hart is the executive director of the Illinois Trucking Association. He estimates the industry has been short up to 80,000 drivers, and welcomes the changes coming to the roads.

"We think it's time to use safety as the standard, not state boundaries," Hart said. "They should be given the opportunity to drive that truck across the state lines."

But Eric Teoh with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety points to data that show young truckers under 21 have crash rates 300 to 500 percent higher than older drivers

"We think that driving across state lines can be a different animal," he said. "We don't think this is a wise move in terms of highway safety."

Trucking industry experts whom we spoke with do not see this move as a quick fix for the driver shortage, and by no means do they think that 18-year-olds are now going to be lined up trying to get their CDL.

But they do hope it may expose a younger generation to the industry.

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