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Young drivers To Get Training For Interstate Commercial Driving Through FMCSA’s New Pilot Program

On September 4th 2020, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced a historical proposal that would bring several economic benefits to the transportation industry as well as create enormous job opportunities. FMCSA proposed and asked for public comments on its new pilot program that would allow drivers under the age of 21 (18, 19 and 20 year olds) to operate CMV for interstate commerce.

The decision has been enthusiastically welcomed by the American Trucking Association, Truckload Carriers Association and others. David Heller, vice president of TCS said that they “will be submitting comments in support of the proposed pilot program, as it represents yet another opportunity for our industry to highlight the safe driving practices and accident reduction technology that professional truck drivers use on our roads today. This pilot program should provide meaningful data regarding the driving force of our industry that adds to the already tremendous support to further examine allowing younger drivers, ages 18-20, to operate on our highways.”

Chris Spear, ATA president and CEO also voiced his support and commended Trump administration for moving ahead with the new pilot program. He said, “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. This is an amazing block of talent with unlimited potential. If our freedom can be defended from tyranny around the world by our men in women in uniform, many well below the age of 21, then it’s quite clear that we can train that same group how to safely and responsibly cross state lines in a commercial vehicle.”

Proposal Timeline:

2018 July – FMCSA introduced a pilot program open to current and former military personnel between the ages of 18 and 20. Eligible drivers must have undergone specified heavy-vehicle driver training while in service and be sponsored by a participating motor carrier.

2019 February – The DRIVE-Safe Act or Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy Act was reintroduced in House of Senate. It proposed to lower the age requirement for interstate drivers to 18 as long as drivers under the age of 21 are participating in an apprenticeship program that includes separate 120-hour and 280-hour probationary periods, during which younger drivers would operate CMVs under the supervision of an experienced driver and must achieve specific performance benchmarks before advancing.

2019, May – FMCSA published a Federal Register notice requesting public comments on a possible new pilot program to allow drivers aged 18, 19, and 20 to operate commercial motor vehicles in interstate commerce. The May 2019 notice asked specific questions regarding training; qualifications; driving limitations; operational and participation requirements; insurance; research and data; and vehicle safety systems that should be considered in developing a second pilot program for younger drivers.

2020 September – FMCSA Proposes New Under-21 Commercial Driver Pilot Program

What is in the proposal?

In the Federal Register notice, the FMCSA requests public comments on a new pilot program that would allow younger drivers to operate in interstate commerce. The pilot program is open for drivers to participate if they fall within two categories:

  • Young drivers between18- to 20-year-old with commercial driver’s license (CDL) having experience in operating 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; or
  • Young drivers between 19- and 20-year-old with CDL having experience in operating CMVs in intrastate commerce for a minimum of one year and 25,000 miles. Keeping their safety in mind, the study group drivers would not be allowed to operate vehicles hauling passengers or hazardous materials or special configuration vehicles.

In the Unites States, currently, 18-20 year old CDL holders are allowed to operate commercial motor vehicle within the borders of the state in 49 states and the District of Columbia. Under-21 drivers in these states can operate CMVs in intrastate commerce if they hold a commercial driving licence. 

The FMCSA’s new proposal also ensures the safety of the drivers. FMCSA’s Deputy Administrator Wiley Deck said, “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. 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.”

Benefits of the proposal:

The proposal has amassed significant support as it seeks to solve several problems at once. Here is how the transportation industry will benefit from this program:

  • The program would provide new opportunities for young people to enter the labour force and strengthen the economy.
  • In the past decade or so, there has always been a shortage of drivers in the transportation and fleet industry. With many old drivers thinking of retiring due to the pandemic, recruiting younger and new drivers will bridge the gap, allowing the industry to operate at full potential.
  • Instructing safety standards and responsibility at a young age ensures better driving behaviour, creating a better-prepared and much safer driver.

The International Foodservice Distributors Association (IFDA) also came forward to show their support to the program. In a statement, they said, “the program would provide a path to bring needed younger drivers safely into the industry as aging drivers retire and growing online purchasing increases long-term freight demand. The trucking industry is a good paying career choice for America’s emerging workforce. Training programs like this are critical game changers for not only developing a highly skilled workforce but also creating pathways to financial stability— without the need to incur college debt.”

The opposition:

When the FMCSA first came up with the idea of new pilot program for younger drivers, it was met with severe opposition from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. According to them, younger drivers lack overall experience and are less safe behind the wheel than more seasoned colleagues, and hence should not be allowed interstate commercial travel. “Launching this pilot program would go against FMCSA’s goal of improving highway safety,” OOIDA President and CEO Todd Spencer said in the release. “The agency should not be used as a tool for large motor carriers to expand their driver pool instead of fixing the problems that have led to their extremely high turnover rates. If highway safety is the priority, the age should go up, not down. Instead of efforts to entice the least experienced, the focus should be hiring and retaining the most experienced drivers, not expanding the funnel or driver churn.”

Voicing the same apprehension, International Brotherhood of Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa said, “The program is of grave concern to those who use the roadways as their workplace.  It could potentially jeopardizing the safety of all road users.”

To read more about the proposal, click here.

As a part of fleet industry, Matrack Inc. believes that the program will definitely create a better drivers, thereby ensuring safety on the road. We support the new pilot program as it lines up with our vision – to make commercial interstate driving safer, a vision we inculcate while designing our GPS tracking, ELD and other Fleet management products and services. The safety of your vehicle, assets and your drivers is given the utmost priority through the best and latest of technology. We create GPD and ELD solutions that are practical, smart and seamless. We also offer 24/7 tech support to all our clients.

For more updates on FMCSA’s new pilot program for under-21 CDL drivers, follow this page.


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