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FMCSA takes another step toward opening interstate trucking to younger drivers

Sept. 8, 2020
An FMCSA Federal Register notice requests comments on a new pilot program that would allow 18- to 20-year-old drivers to operate in interstate commerce with some limitations.

A new federal pilot program would permit younger drivers to operate commercial motor vehicles in interstate commerce. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is seeking public comments on the proposal that would open up more truck driving jobs to 18, 19 and 20 year olds.

Federal regulations currently prohibit commercial drivers from crossing state lines until they turn 21. But younger professional drivers are permitted to drive long distances within their home states. In 2019, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House and Senate introduced the DRIVE-Safe Act, which would open up interstate trucking to drivers before they turn 21.

The Ameican Trucking Associations and International Foodservice Distributors of America have been working together to promote the legislation, which is co-sponsored by 144 representatives and 34 senators. The legislation is also backed more than 90 other national trade associations and companies, according to the ATA. Similar legislation by the previous Congress failed to advance in 2018.

The pilot program would allow the FMCSA to “carefully examine the safety, feasibility, and possible economic benefits of allowing 18 to 20-year-old drivers to operate in interstate commerce,” said FMCSA Deputy Administrator Wiley Deck, who recently became the agency’s acting administrator. “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.”

FMCSA’s Federal Register notice requests comments on the new pilot program, which would allow drivers to participate if they fall within two categories: 

  • 18- to 20-year-old commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders who operate 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 
  • 19- and 20-year-old commercial drivers who have operated CMVs in intrastate commerce for a minimum of one year and 25,000 miles. 

    The younger drivers would be required to meet more stringent safety and skill requirements than older drivers. The vehicles used by the younger drivers in interstate trucking must be equipped with active braking collision mitigation systems, forward-facing video event capture and a speed governor set at no more than 65 mph. The study group drivers would not be allowed to operate vehicles hauling passengers or hazardous materials or special configuration vehicles.

    “The existing strong bipartisan support for the Drive SAFE Act in Congress, coupled with new data from this pilot program, will put additional pressure on Congress to create a permanent path for more young professionals to fully participate in our industry,” ATA president and CEO Chris Spear wrote in an email to association members. “This is a great step forward in bringing a younger generation of talent into our industry.”

    Currently, 49 states and the District of Columbia already allow 18- to 20-year-old CDL holders to operate CMVs in intrastate commerce. 

    In July 2018, FMCSA launched a Military Commercial Driver Pilot Program that allows certain 18- to 20-year-olds with military training to operate CMVs in interstate commerce.

    The public has 60 days to comment on the proposed pilot program as published in the Federal Register.

    About the Author

    Josh Fisher | Editor-in-Chief

    Editor-in-Chief Josh Fisher has been with FleetOwner since 2017, covering everything from modern fleet management to operational efficiency, artificial intelligence, autonomous trucking, regulations, and emerging transportation technology. He is based in Maryland. 

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