The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is currently urging the White House to offer emergency, expedited approval of the driver apprenticeship program that came as part of 2021’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill.
President Biden’s DRIVE-Safe Act–included in his Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act–would implement an initiative allowing drivers between 18- and 21-years of age to be able to operate commercial vehicles in interstate commerce–a change from the previous regulation which only allowed drivers in that age range to work within intrastate operations. The push to expedite this approval process is a scrambling effort by federal regulators to find methods of easing the current, long-lasting truck driver shortage.
FMCSA has asked the White House Office of Management and Budget to launch the pilot by this week, a pilot that would allow drivers with intrastate commercial driver licenses to work within these new parameters and that would require trucking companies to properly monitor their drivers who are part of the program.
Soon, around 4,500 carriers will likely begin enrolling more than 40,000 into the pilot program, FMCSA predicts, as the industry voices their belief that this initiative will help bring about the highly-needed number of new drivers entering the industry and alleviate the ongoing shortage.
Is rushing this program into fruition the safest course of action? Most likely not, says Levinson and Stefani’s Ken Levinson.
“The labor market is very difficult right now for the industry, and for trucking companies in particular,” he explained. “But despite the pressure of the shortage, carriers just cannot hire unsafe or unqualified drivers. It’s just not the way to go–it’s too dangerous, and the risks are too high.”
Hopefully, then, these drivers will indeed undergo rigorous training and be heavily monitored while participating in the program. According to the pilot’s outline, young drivers will be able to operate within interstate commerce under the supervision of an experienced driver during their probationary period–the “experienced driver” must have had a commercial driver license and have been employed for at least the last two years with at least five years of experience, and be over the age of 26.
Out of two probationary periods, these drivers must first: complete 120 hours of on-duty time with 80 of those operating a CMV, with employer-confirmed efficiency in speed and space management, lane control, mirror scanning, evening driving, rural driving, interstate and city driving, safety awareness, hours-of-service compliance, and proper left and right turns. During the second probationary period, drivers must: complete 280 hours of on-duty time with 160 of those operating a CMV, with employer-confirmed efficiency in pre-trip inspections, coupling and uncoupling procedures, trip planning and map reading, load weighing and distribution, backing and maneuvering within small spaces, and fueling procedures.
Following these probationary periods, the young drivers can then begin driving commercial motor vehicles in interstate commerce alongside an experienced driver. The pilot program also mandates data collection in regards to any incidents occurring that involve an apprentice, as well as any other apprentice-related safety data.
“Additional data will include crash data (incident reports, police reports, insurance reports, inspection data, citation data, safety event data as recorded by all safety systems installed on vehicles, to include advanced driver assistance systems, automatic emergency braking systems, onboard monitoring systems, and forward-facing and in-cab video systems), as well as exposure data, record of duty status logs, on-duty time, driving time, and time spent away from home terminal,” said FMCSA. “This data will be submitted monthly through participating motor carriers.”
Trucking companies can absolutely not skirt around any of these guidelines or safety procedures, Levinson noted, which may be a temptation for carriers rushing to find new drivers to fill vacant roles and meet current consumer demand.
“These drivers are operating 80,000 pounds of metal, and they can wipe out with devastating consequences,” he explained. “Companies have to make sure they’re hiring experienced drivers, that are trained well and that know the safety rules.”