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FMCSA Proposes New Under-21 Commercial Driver Pilot Program

By Sean M. Lyden - Staff Writer
Posted Nov 2nd 2020 1:17PM

In early September, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced a new pilot program proposal to allow drivers aged 18 to 20 to operate commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) across state lines.

“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 FMCSA Deputy Administrator Wiley Deck. “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.”

Currently, 49 states and the District of Columbia already allow 18 to 20-year-old commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders to operate CMVs in intrastate (within state borders) commerce.

Advocates for the proposal, like the American Trucking Associations, see it as a possible solution to the industry’s chronic driver shortage problem. That’s because opening the door to under-21 drivers could allow trucking companies to more effectively compete for younger workers that have historically started their careers in plumbing, electrical, construction, utility, and various other trades.

“Allowing younger drivers, who are already moving goods intrastate, to drive interstate is a common-sense step that has support not just from the trucking industry, but from a broad coalition,” ATA President and CEO Chris Spear said. “Between FMCSA’s proposed pilot project and the bipartisan support for the Drive SAFE Act in Congress, we hope we will soon create a path for more young people to fully participate in our industry.”

(The Drive SAFE Act directs the Department of Transportation to promote regulations to implement an apprenticeship program for under-21 CDL drivers. To follow the bill’s latest status, go to: https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/569.)

To participate in the pilot program, drivers must fit within either of these two categories:

  • 18 to 20-year-old CDL holders who operate CMVs in interstate commerce while taking part in a 120-hour probationary period and a subsequent 280-hour probationary period under an apprenticeship program established by an employer.
  • 19 and 20-year-old commercial drivers who have operated CMVs in intrastate commerce for a minimum of one year and 25,000 miles. The study group drivers would not be allowed to operate vehicles hauling passengers or hazardous materials or special configuration vehicles.

But not everyone likes the proposal.

As John Bendel, contributing editor-at-large at Land Line (published by the Owner-Operator Independent Driver’s Association), put it in a recent article, “The pilot program itself is for show. Participants will be picked and vetted. The results are all but predetermined. The bad news comes after the pilot program when 18-year-old truckload drivers range the continent on their own, away from home for weeks at a time. Kids driving intrastate do not drive as far or for as long – even in Texas. The ATA says if they’re old enough for military service, they’re old enough to drive truckload. But in the military, those kids are closely supervised.”

Several trucking professionals expressed similar concerns in public comments on the regulations.gov website.

One commenter wrote, “Driver maturity involves many factors. Younger drivers in cars are proven to have higher crash rates than the age average; the same will occur in trucks if allowed widespread...Many drivers find it difficult to handle the changing: terrain, weather, time zones, signage and laws of traveling state to state. To put expectation this on a young driver, along with managing a combination vehicle with a high gross weight, asks for incidents and crashes.”

Another commenter said that an influx of younger drivers not only could impact public safety but also drive down pay rates.

“We have unemployment in the USA (workers available); there is not a 'driver shortage' as in ‘there are no new drivers available no matter what we try.’ To allow younger drivers in CMVs will erode highway safety and also create a cheaper pool of labor for large fleets. We need to take the tougher route of expecting more from employers to make a driving career a better one than it currently is.”

What do you think?
Public feedback is due by November 9, 2020, at 11:59 pm Eastern.

If you want to make your voice heard - for or against the FMCSA’s proposed pilot program - go to: https://beta.regulations.gov/document/FMCSA-2018-0346-1124.

And on the upper left side of the page, click the blue “Comment” button.