The federal government is moving forward with a plan to drive teens from state to state to big rigs in a testing program.
Currently, truck drivers crossing state borders must be at least 21 years old, but an apprenticeship program required by Congress to help reduce supply chain backlogs allows 18- to 20-year-old truck drivers to drive outside their home states. Will give
The pilot program, detailed Thursday in a proposed regulation by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), will screen teens with a driving-impairment violation or traffic ticket due to any accident.
But safety advocates say the program runs contrary to data showing that younger drivers are more prone to accidents than older drivers. They say it is unwise to hold teenage drivers responsible for rigs that can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds and cause catastrophic damage when they collide with lighter vehicles.
The apprenticeship pilot program was required by Congress as part of an infrastructure bill signed into law on November 15. It requires the FMCSA, part of the Department of Transportation, to launch the program within 60 days.
The American Trucking Association, a large industry trade group, supports the measure as a way to help with the shortage of drivers. The group estimates that there are more than 80,000 drivers operating in the country, more than the required number, as freight demand reaches historic highs.
Under apprenticeship, young drivers can cross state lines during 120-hour and 280-hour probation periods, as long as an experienced driver is in the passenger seat. Trucks used in the program must have an electronic braking crash mitigation system and a forward-facing video camera, and their speed must be limited to 65 mph.
After probation, young drivers can drive on their own, but companies must monitor their performance until the age of 21. No more than 3,000 trainees can participate in the training at any one time.
According to the Department of Transportation, the FMCSA must reach carriers with excellent safety records to participate in the program.
The program will run for three years, and the motor carrier agency must analyze teen drivers’ safety records in a report to Congress and recommend whether young drivers age 21 or older are safe. Congress could expand the program with new laws.
The test is part of the Biden administration’s broader measures to tackle a truck driver shortage and improve working conditions for truck drivers.
In a statement, Nick Gale, vice president of workforce safety for trucking unions, noted 49 states and Washington, D.C., already allow drivers under the age of 21 to drive semitrailers, but they can only operate in one state line. Can’t take load.
“This program creates a rigorous safety training program, requiring an additional 400 hours of advanced safety training, in which participants are assessed against specific performance benchmarks,” Gale said. He said that this program will ensure that the industry has enough drivers to meet the growing demand for freight.
But Peter Kurdock, general counsel for the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said federal data shows that younger drivers have a much higher accident rate than older drivers. “This comes as no surprise to any American who drives a vehicle,” he said.
Keeping them behind the wheel of trucks weighing up to 40 tons when loaded increases the potential for mass casualties, he said.
Kurdock said the trucking industry has wanted younger drivers for years and used supply chain issues to get it on the infrastructure bill. He fears the industry will use the program’s anomalous data to push teen truckers across the country.