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Debate continues for under-21 program

Jan. 11, 2022
The FMCSA opened a forum for those in the industry to comment on the program allowing commercial truck drivers under the age of 21 to cross interstate lines.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) called for comments on the under-21 program, which will allow drivers under the age of 21 to cross state lines. That comment period ended on Jan. 12.

Those within the trucking community are divided over the program, both in support and against.  

“This will open enormous opportunities for the 18- to 21-year-old population, giving them access to a high-paying profession free of the debt burden that comes with a four-year degree,” said Chris Spear, president and CEO of American Trucking Associations (ATA). “Moreover, this would strengthen training programs beyond current requirements to ensure safety and that drivers are best prepared.” 

According to David Heller, VP of governmental affairs at the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA), crash-preventing safety technologies are a big part of the federal pilot program that will allow younger drivers to mentor with older truckers and then operate across state lines themselves. 

See also: 2022 regulations outlook: After a slow 2021, feds could be busy next year

People began submitting comments when the window opened on Jan. 7. A majority of those comments present an opposite view.

“The human brain doesn’t reach full maturity until age 25. This is a scientifically proven fact,” commented Daniel Waters. “The last thing this country needs is immature drivers hauling 40 tons on the national roadways. The president needs to intercede with logistical warehousing issues, not an imaginary driver shortage.”

"When it comes to highway safety, the data is clear—younger drivers and inexperienced drivers crash more," the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) said in a letter to the FMCSA. "This is why OOIDA remains concerned about the under-21 Apprenticeship Pilot Program (APP) that will allow younger drivers to operate in interstate commerce. We believe that licensing under-21 drivers for interstate commerce will lead to more crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving large trucks, especially if the APP is implemented without establishing comprehensive safety oversight."

“Instead of discussing the rampant turnover that part of industry faces, or the low pay and tough working conditions those drivers endure, we are disappointed to see the agency only focus on how they can get more drivers into these jobs with no suggestions of how to improve the quality of the work while they are there,” commenter Robert McDougal said. “Younger drivers should not be expected to tolerate substandard working conditions any more than their older counterparts. Asking them to do so while also potentially jeopardizing the safety of all road users only makes this decision more troubling.”

On April 14, 2021, 117 organizations, representing the agriculture, manufacturing, retail, food service, and trucking sectors of the U.S. supply chain, sent a letter to transportation leaders in Congress urging passage of the DRIVE-Safe Act, which would launch a two-step apprenticeship program to allow drivers to participate in interstate commerce.

See also: Trucking urges Congress to pass DRIVE-Safe Act

To qualify, candidates must complete at least 400 hours of additional training and be accompanied by an experienced driver in the cab only driving trucks outfitted with the latest safety technology, including active braking collision mitigation systems, forward-facing dash cams, speed limiters set at 65 mph or lower, and automatic or automatic-manual transmissions. 

As one of many bills failing to get past the introductory stage, the Senate decided to roll this program into its Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was signed into law by President Biden on Nov. 16.

Read all public comments regarding the under-21 program here.

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