MIDDLETON — Middleton High School junior Nathan Cooper weaved a simulated 18-wheeler down a windy road through wind and rain. He only crashed once.
He wasn’t the only one. Minutes earlier, Gov. Brad Little crashed after the simulator threw a storm his way.
Cooper and the governor slipped behind the wheel of the computerized big rig outside Middleton High Wednesday to kick off the Idaho Trucking Association’s statewide tour of a new simulator aimed at exposing teens to an industry facing driver shortages.
For students like Cooper, 16, that means capitalizing on recent changes in federal law that allow 18-year-olds to drive semis across state lines.
He drives farm trucks in the summer, but still needs hours of training before he can hit the road.
He now hopes to do that in a couple years.
Though tour dates and venues weren’t released, the association plans to visit dozens of other Idaho schools this year. The grant that helped the association purchase the simulator and funds the tour requires 2,000 students to use it this year, president Allen Hodges said.
Little praised the effort to expose students to more opportunities, calling truck driving careers “lucrative.”
“For such a long time — not all school districts, but some school districts — there was just that insinuation to go on to get a bachelor’s degree,” Little said. “But there’s so many different careers out there.”
Eighteen-year-olds could already drive a semi in-state, said Allen Hodges, president of the Idaho Trucking Association. But now, a new apprenticeship program that’s part of the federal infrastructure bill allows drivers 18 and up to haul cargo across state lines. Previously, the federal minimum age was 21.
The apprenticeship requires drivers to complete 400 hours of training with an experienced driver while operating a truck fitted with extra safety precautions. A subsidiary of the Department of Transportation outlined details of the pilot program last week. The New York Times reports that a start time has not been set.
The nation is short 80,000 truck drivers and Idaho alone is down 5,000, Hodges said.
The driver shortage means people will have to wait longer for products, Hodges said, adding that over 70% of goods are shipped by truck.
“People order things off Amazon and they don’t realize the truck brought it to a warehouse, then the delivery van brings it to your home,” Hodges said. “There’s a truck that touches almost anything.”
Yet many students don’t consider trucking as a career option, Hodges said. Most new truckers are joining the industry looking for a second career, he added, as the median age of new drivers is 39.
Days on the road can turn some would-be drivers away, but not all trucking jobs require it, Hodges stressed. Some, like beverage truck drivers and dump truck drivers, allow workers to return home nightly.