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FMCSA moves ahead with under 21 driver pilot program

Federal government seeking public comment on allowing 18-20-year-old drivers to operate commercial vehicles in interstate commerce.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is officially moving forward with a proposal that would allow younger drivers to operate commercial motor vehicles across state lines.

The FMCSA announced its intention in a May 14 Federal Register Notice by asking for public comment on the pilot program that would allow 18- to 20-year-old drivers to operate commercial motor vehicles in interstate commerce.

“Commercial trucks and buses are essential to a thriving national economy, and the (Department of Transportation) wants to ensure the public has an opportunity to comment on this important potential change,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.

Drivers ages 18-20 may currently only operate commercial vehicles in intrastate commerce. In July 2018, USDOT announced the details of the Commercial Driver Pilot Program required under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which allows certain 18- to 20-year-olds with military training to operate commercial vehicles in interstate commerce.

The May 14 action asks for comments on a second pilot program to allow non-military drivers, between 18 and 20 years old, to operate CMVs in interstate commerce. FMCSA requests comments on the training, qualifications, driving limitations, and vehicle safety systems that FMCSA should consider in developing options or approaches for a second pilot program for younger drivers.

The FMCSA received 67 comments on the younger military driver program. Forty comments favored the pilot program and nine opposed it. The other 18 comments were a form letter asking the agency to expand the current pilot program or initiate a new one for drivers 18-20 years old and who are engaged in agricultural operations.

“We want input from the public on efforts that offer the potential to create more jobs in the commercial motor vehicle industry while maintaining the highest level of safety,” said FMCSA Administrator Raymond P. Martinez of the most recent younger drivers proposal. “We encourage all CMV stakeholders to submit comments on a potential interstate pilot program for younger drivers.”

Earlier this year, companion bills were introduced in the U.S. House and Senate called the Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy Act. It proposes 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.

Younger drivers would also be required to drive vehicles equipped with active braking collision mitigation systems, forward-facing video event capture, and speed limiters set to 65 miles per hour, according to the proposed bill.

According to the Federal Register Notice, the FMCSA is encouraging the public to respond to these two questions in public comment submissions:

  • What data are currently available on the safety performance (e.g., crash involvement, etc.) of 18-20-year-old drivers operating CMVs in intrastate commerce?
  • Are there concerns about obtaining insurance coverage for drivers under 21 who operate CMVs in intrastate commerce, and would these challenges be greater for interstate operations?

A similar Truckload Carriers Association proposal from 2000 and the more recent DRIVE-Safe Act both suggest operational limitations for 18-20-year-old drivers beyond what is currently required under federal regulations. In addition, graduated driver license programs that begin with operational restrictions -- such as younger drivers not being allowed on the road between midnight and 5 a.m. -- have been shown to be effective for new drivers. With this in mind, the FMCSA is looking for answers to these questions:

  • Should there be time or distance restrictions on younger drivers? If so, what should these be and why?
  • Should younger drivers have more limited hours of service, such as a maximum of 8 hours of driving each day? If so, what limits should be applied and why?
  • Should younger drivers be prohibited from transporting hazardous materials, passengers, and/or operating tank vehicles or oversize/overweight vehicles? Should there be other restrictions?
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