In the midst of the ongoing truck driver shortage, many carriers and industry members have been backing the proposed pilot program that would allow drivers under the age of 21 to operate commercial vehicles in interstate commerce. Now, safety advocates within the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association are begging the question, will these young truck drivers even be able to find insurance?
Until now, drivers between the ages of 18 and 21 were only permitted to drive within intrastate commerce by most states.
“We expect it will be difficult for many motor carriers to afford insurance coverage for younger drivers,” said Todd Spencer, President and CEO of OOIDA in a letter offered as commentary for the program proposal. Spencer’s opinions on the pilot program have mostly appeared to be in opposition, although OOIDA hasn’t stated its exact stance on the matter.
Spencer explained that a majority of carriers would have trouble insuring riskier young truckers.
“Small-business motor carriers are especially unlikely to take the risk of insuring under-21 drivers without evaluating the costs and benefits to their operations,” Spencer continued. “In all likelihood, only self-insured carriers will be willing to provide coverage for under-21 interstate drivers.”
The Apprenticeship Pilot Program, proposed by FMCSA, would allow for these young driver apprentices (who already have commercial driver licenses) to undergo two probationary training periods before becoming permitted to operate within interstate commerce: one training period alongside an experienced trucker while completing 120 hours of on-duty time, with 80 of those hours in a truck; the other with no other driver necessary while completing 280 on-duty hours, with 160 of those hours in a truck.
OOIDA’S most pressing concern is that FMCSA will not collect sufficient data throughout the program and won’t be able to make an efficient decision in regards to the safety concerns at hand surrounding young drivers operating CMVs in an interstate capacity.
“FMCSA must incorporate more specific data collection methods that will better determine whether under-21 drivers can safely operate in interstate commerce,” continued Spencer in his letter.
Additionally, OOIDA “would like to see more details about how the safety data collected will be compared with other drivers, including how the control group will be selected,” wrote Spencer, claiming that FMCSA has yet to declare proper definition for the composition of the control group itself.
The study should also analyze problems around long detention times and involve safety and crash data around intrastate drivers, OOIDA says, as the main argument in support of the program is that young drivers are already able to operate within intrastate routes. Additionally, data collection on program participant performance should be continuous, Spencer said. “We strongly believe the APP must monitor and analyze apprentice performance after they have completed the required probationary periods,” he continued in his letter.
There should also be a concrete timeline regarding the length of the APP, according to OOIDA. “How will the agency decide whether APP should be extended, expanded, or discontinued in the final data analysis?” asked Spencer. “If crashes and fatalities occur during the program, will those be made public?”
Many public comments echoed OOIDA’s concerns, with some commenters expressing worries that young drivers will be easily overwhelmed with the demands of the industry today, or that they will just not have the maturity needed for overall safety in their day-to-day routes.
“As a 42-year veteran trucker [and] owner with a five-million-mile, no-accident safety record, I feel that younger drivers do not have the patience and ability to control [their] emotions,” said industry member Marc Edleston in a public comment. “Driving is more than operating a large vehicle. You encounter bad weather conditions, bad road conditions, and most of all–other bad drivers. One must always be extremely patient.”
OOIDA believes that overall, the program is likely a chance for FMCSA to push forward more of its agenda, with Spencer stating that the APP “is another opportunity to examine the cause of excessively high driver turnover rates.”