The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced its intent to allow young drivers between the ages of 18 and 20 to operate commercial motor vehicles through a new pilot program.
As of early September, FMCSA will push for drivers in this age group with commercial driver licenses to be able to operate CMVs in interstate commerce efforts. Those drivers would, however, be subject to a 120-hour probationary period and 280-hour apprenticeship period.
Eligible drivers also include those of 19 or 20 years of age who have operated commercial motor vehicles within intrastate commerce for at least one year over 25,000 miles.
“The study group drivers would not be allowed to operate vehicles hauling passengers, hazardous materials, or special configuration vehicles,” FMCSA clarified in its announcement.
Study group participants will have their vehicles set up to include driver-assisting technology, such as speed limiters set at 65 miles per hour, active braking collision-mitigation systems, and forward-facing video capture capabilities.
“This action will allow the agency to carefully examine the safety, feasibility, and possible economic benefits of allowing 18- to 20-year-old drivers to operate in interstate commerce,” said Wiley Deck, Deputy Administrator for FMCSA. “Safety is always FMCSA’s top priority, so we encourage drivers, motor carriers, and interested citizens to review this proposed new pilot program and share their thoughts and opinions.”
This particular program aligns with the efforts of the DRIVE Safe Act, which worked to allow younger truckers to enter interstate commerce. American Trucking Associations and other industry groups have backed the legislation, which is also currently sponsored by 144 congresspeople and 34 senators.
“This is a significant step toward improving safety on our nation’s roads, setting a standard for these drivers that is well beyond what 49 states currently require,” said ATA President Chris Spear. “This is an amazing block of talent with unlimited potential.”
These 49 states allow CDL holders in this young age group to operate CMVs within state borders, and the new proposed pilot follows the 2018 announcement of the Military Commercial Driver Pilot Program, which would allow 18- to 20-year-old drivers with a military background to drive CMVs within interstate commerce. The pilot also comes after 2019’s notice by the Federal Register seeking public commentary regarding where and how a young driver pilot program could take place, including comments about training, limitations, operational requirements, insurance, research, and vehicle safety systems.
“As an industry, we need to find new ways to connect with potential new drivers,” said Randy Guillot, Chairman of ATA and president of Triple G Express and Southeastern Motor Freight. “By providing young people the opportunity to fully participate in the financially-rewarding and dynamic world of trucking, we will be in a better position to bring in a new generation of valuable talent to our industry.”
This month’s notice also requests public comment for a period of 60 days, and also approaches the 1,118 comments from 2019’s notice, which includes a nearly 50/50 split between those favoring and opposing the pilot program. More than 95 organizations and 1,000 total people commented.
Of these, 750 commenters submitted personal opinions, while the remaining pushed for a program focusing on shorthaul drivers instead. Those opposing the program included organizations such as Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, Governors Highway Safety Association, Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, Parents Against Tired Truckers, Trucking Alliance, and other private carriers and citizens.
Supporters of the program include ATA, Commercial Vehicle Training Association, DriverReach, National Propane Gas Association, National Interstate Insurance, National Association of Publicly Funded Truck Driving Schools, National Retail Federation, and Towing and Recovery Association of America.
The announcement for this pilot program comes as the country has long-faced a driver shortage, which worsened with the high demand brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Although the program’s supporters promise a focus on highway safety for these young drivers, it is difficult to ignore the fact that the trucking world just wants more drivers entering the industry, regardless of age or experience. Does allowing truckers still in their teen years to begin operating in interstate commerce bring more safety to trucking as a whole, or does it just allow more trucks to hit the road?