No way did Biden ever actually drive a big rig

On Monday, President Biden held an outdoor ceremony on the White House lawn to talk about the trucking industry.  In the course of speaking, he repeated his tall tale about having had a "commercial driver's license" (CDL) while he was a young senator and having driven tractor-trailers.

At the 21:43 of his speech, Biden said, "I used to drive a truck; it's a long story[.]"  And at the 24:51 mark of the speech, he proceeded to tell us the story.

Basically, he said, while helping out his father, the used car salesman, he used to go up to Philadelphia to pick up tractors or entire rigs and drove them back to his dad's place of employment.  To do this, he needed a "commercial driver's license" — his words.  Then, later, after he was already a U.S. senator, he once rode with and even "drove" a rig out to Ohio.  That was the claim he made in Monday's speech, though I presume that that means he shared the driving with the owner-operator he rode out with.

There is some evidence that Biden made such a trip.  There is this story told in the December 12, 1973 edition of the Delaware Evening Journal, in which the young Senator Biden spoke about riding along on this fifteen-hour drive from Delaware to Ohio because he wanted to hear about truckers' grievances about fuel prices and working conditions.  This was at the time of the OPEC production freeze and resulting oil panic in the United States in the wake of the Yom Kippur War of the previous October.

In the article, he'd made no mention of himself actually having operated the rig.

So what about Biden's claim to having had a "commercial driver's license" in 1973?

In a word, it is false.  Because commercial driver's licenses were not issued and standardized until 1992.  They didn't exist in 1973.


As it happens, I can speak to exactly the kind of license that Biden may have had in 1973, for I myself was licensed in Delaware at the time.

In the spring of 1972, while a senior at Fordham University, I attended a tractor-trailer training school in the Soundview section of the Bronx.  For my trouble, I received a State of New York Chauffeur's License Class 1.  I think Chauffeur's Class 4 was for taxi-drivers, Class 1 for trucks, Class 2 for buses — something like that.

After graduation, I spent part of the summer in the Bronx, then moved in with my parents, who lived in Wilmington, Delaware, whereupon I applied for a job to drive a school bus.  For that I needed a Chauffeur's license.  I transferred my NYS Chauffeur's Class 1 to Delaware, but the difference was, at the time, Delaware had simply operator's licenses and unclassified chauffeur's licenses.  At the time, all one needed to do to get a chauffeur's license in Delaware was to have an operator's license and pass a simple written test.  And with it, one could operate not only taxicabs, but also buses, tractor-trailers — anything.  Without the slightest training.

In principle, and without ever having even sat inside a tractor-trailer, one could legally operate one, not only in Delaware, but all over the country.  No training, no experience — nothing.  Such was the wild world of American trucking before the dawn of the CDL.

It's quite possible Biden had this kind of license.  But who on Earth would ever have asked him to operate large, heavy vehicles for which he'd had no training whatsoever?  Would a loving father ever send his beloved son out to operate dangerous vehicles for which he was wholly untrained?  And moreover, would a professional owner-operator ever allow an untrained rider behind the wheel of his rig?

I don't believe Biden's claim of having driven one, not for an instant, and neither should anybody else.

Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

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