Back in 2020, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), an agency under the U.S. DOT, proposed a pilot program that would allow “18 to 20-year-old drivers to operate in interstate commerce” and engage in driving commercial trucks. Since the initial proposal, the FMCSA has encouraged the public to wade in and share their opinions.
Upon completion of probationary hours, drivers aged 18 to 20 would be ready to take on the roads and fully operate commercial motor vehicles across state lines. Many states have already allowed individuals under 21 to operate commercial vehicles, however they have never been permitted to drive into other states. According to CBS News, these drivers would not be able to drive passengers, transport hazardous materials, or operate special configuration vehicles.
A Look into the Pilot Program and its Implementation
When the pilot program was first proposed in 2020, it had not been implemented into actual policy. However, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, signed into law last November by President Biden, orders the FMCSA to introduce a program that permits employers to set up apprenticeships for prospective drivers between the ages of 18 and 21.
According to CBS News, the program must first be approved by the Office of Management and Budget, an office under the Executive Branch that oversees implementation of presidential objectives.
Public Reception of the Proposal
According to the Federal Register, FMCSA received 191 distinct submissions from the public when the agency released its proposal of the pilot program for public comment. Among the submissions, 127 commenters were in support of the proposal, while 50 commenters were in opposition. The remaining 14 commenters were neutral to the proposal.
Both members of Congress and several prominent groups in the industry voiced their support for the proposed pilot program. The Federal Register, notes that 20 congressional members submitted a letter in response to the FCMSA’s yield for public comment that endorsed the proposal. The American Trucking Association, which is the largest national trade association for the industry, released a statement in glowing support: “Allowing younger drivers…to drive interstate is a common sense step…We hope we will soon create a path for more young people to fully participate in our industry”.
Additionally, the Commercial Vehicle Training Association, also came out in favor of the pilot program.
While receiving support from influential associations and congressional members, the proposal of the pilot program has also drawn concerns from other notable industry players.
CBS News highlights criticisms of the proposal from key safety advocation groups such as Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety and Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways. Both organizations attributed their appeals to higher crash and distracted driving rates among younger drivers. Furthermore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asserted younger drivers are not developed enough to critically analyze potential dangers when operating commercial motor vehicles.
Further doubling down, many opponents of the proposal are suggesting that minimum age for interstate truck drivers should be pushed to 25 years old. In other words, they wish to see an increase to the age requirement, which is currently 21 years old, supported by their claims that younger drivers are less likely to handle challenging conditions that exist across the country. Such conditions include weather, terrain differences, and varying laws between states.
If the Proposal is Implemented
If the pilot program is implemented into public policy, FMCSA will announce on its website, that applications are open for acceptance into the new program. Additionally, CBS News reports that the agency will provide access to application forms for people interested in participating in the pilot program. Other resources and information will be made available for motor carriers as well should they adopt the pilot program. No more than 3,000 young drivers (under 21 years old) will participate in the pilot program at any one time, according to the Federal Register.
From data gathered by the American Trucking Association, about 72% of goods transported into the U.S. are carried by truckers. The report also indications the U.S. is in need of around 80,000 additional truckers to satisfy these immense freight volumes.
All things considered, the recruitment of new drivers into the industry must be approached as a top priority. Whether it’s opposing criticisms or fledging support, the proposal of this pilot program stimulates public discourse of a crucial challenge facing domestic logistics.
Please reach out to one of our team members if you are interested in further discussion or resources surrounding the proposed pilot program.