The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is moving forward with a controversial program to create an apprenticeship pilot program to allow 18 to 20 year old truck drivers to operate interstate amid lingering concerns over supply chain bottlenecks.
In a notice published in the Federal Register on Friday, January 7, the FMCSA requested “emergency approval” of an information gathering request necessary to begin the under-21 truck driver apprenticeship pilot program.
The under-21 apprenticeship program was included in the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed into law late last year. The law required the FMCSA to begin the pilot program within 60 days after the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act was signed.
The FMCSA is requesting that the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approve the request by January 13, 2021. Comments must be submitted within five days of publication of the notice in the Federal Register.
Once approved, the apprenticeship pilot program would last for three years.
During the pilot program, apprentices will complete two probationary periods, during which they may operate in interstate commerce only under the supervision of an experienced driver in the passenger seat.
The first probationary period must include at least 120-hours of on duty time, of which at least 80 hours are driving time in a CMV. To complete this probationary period, the employer must determine competency in:
- Interstate, city traffic, rural 2-lane, and evening driving;
- Safety awareness;
- Speed and space management;
- Lane control;
- Mirror scanning;
- Right and left turns; and
- Logging and complying with rules relating to hours of service.
The second probationary period must include at least 280 hours of on-duty time,
including not less than 160 hours driving time in a CMV. To complete this probationary period, the employer must determine competency in:
- Backing and maneuvering in close quarters;
- Pre-trip inspections;
- Fueling procedures;
- Weighing loads, weight distribution, and sliding tandems;
- Coupling and uncoupling procedures; and
6. Trip planning, truck routes, map reading, navigation, and permits.
After completion of the second probationary period the apprentice may begin operating CMVs in interstate commerce unaccompanied by an experienced driver.
Trucking companies participating in the pilot program are required to submit crash, inspection, and safety data to the FMCSA each month.
You can click here to submit your public comment on the pilot program through January 13.
Highway safety groups have spoken out in opposition of the teen trucker pilot program.
“Twenty-eight years ago, a teen trucker making an illegal turn resulted in the violent death of my son, Jasen Swift, a Corporal in the United States Marine Corps. It is incomprehensible to me that Congress is advancing legislation allowing 18 to 20 year-olds to get behind the wheel of massive 18-wheelers on interstate highways throughout the nation,” said Russ Swift, Co-Chair of Parents Against Tired Truckers.
OOIDA has long opposed the idea of allowing under-21 drivers to operate interstate. The group asserts that there is no need to bring younger drivers into the industry to combat a “driver shortage” because there is no driver shortage, only issues with driver retention caused by various factors including stagnating wages.
The American Trucking Associations (ATA) supports the program.
“ATA supports FMCSA’s efforts to expand on its current work examining younger commercial drivers,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear said in May 2021. “Right now, 18-, 19-, and 20-year-old drivers are driving trucks in the United States. What these pilot programs will do is set out a path for these drivers to fully participate in our industry by allowing them to drive interstate.”
In November 2021, nearly a dozen U.S. Senators asked the FMCSA to lower the age for truck drivers operating in interstate commerce in response to mounting supply chain and labor issues.