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Pilot training program Charles Wilson/BT

Trucking groups split on pilot program for younger drivers

The American Trucking Associations applauded the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) for taking a first step toward a new pilot program to allow non-military commercial drivers under the age of 21 to operate in interstate commerce.

At the same time, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) came out in opposition of the program because they believe it will be detrimental to highway safety.

“ATA supports FMCSA’s efforts to expand on its current work examining younger commercial drivers,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear. “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.

“Allowing younger drivers, who are already moving goods intrastate, to drive interstate is a common sense step that has support not just from the trucking industry, but from a broad coalition. Between FMCSA’s proposed pilot project and the bipartisan support for the Drive SAFE Act in Congress, we hope we will soon create a path for more young people to fully participate in our industry.”

In contrast, OOIDA contends that younger drivers--especially teenagers--generally lack the maturity and experience to operate a CMV at the safest levels. The group claims research has consistently shown that CMV drivers under 21 are more likely to be involved in crashes.

“Launching this pilot program would go against FMCSA’s goal of improving highway safety,” said Todd Spencer, president of OOIDA. “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 of driver churn.”

FMCSA announced May 14 that it is seeking public comment on a potential pilot program that would allow drivers ages 18-20 to operate commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) in interstate commerce. This would become FMCSA’s second younger driver pilot program, following a program announced last July to allow younger veterans to drive in interstate commerce.

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

Drivers ages 18-20 may currently only operate CMVs 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 CMVs in interstate commerce.

The latest action requests comments on a second pilot program to allow non-military drivers ages 18-20 to operate CMVs in interstate commerce. FMCSA wants 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.

“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. “We encourage all CMV stakeholders to submit comments on a potential interstate pilot program for younger drivers.”

The Federal Register Notice, including how to submit comments, is available here.

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