On Jan. 14, the FMCSA announced the establishment of its Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program, which allows a select group of drivers ages 18 to 20 to haul loads across state lines.
The agency said it would notify companies when they could apply to participate, but the pilot is currently not open yet.
Once open, the pilot program will allow 18- to 20-year-old drivers with a CDL to operate on an interstate basis, while taking part in a 120-hour probationary period, followed by a 280-hour probationary period under an apprenticeship program established by an employer. A driver who is 19 or 20 and has operated commercial vehicles in state commerce for a minimum of one year and 25,000 miles could also be part of the pilot program.
The FMCSA began weighing the issue in 2019. Driving the agenda was the driver shortage, as well as complaints from fleet owners that, while states allowed drivers under 21 to drive Class 8 trucks, they could not cross state lines.
Before establishing the pilot, the FMCSA asked for public comments. Here's a look at some of them. (Commenters have the option of attaching a name or being anonymous. Some comments have been edited slightly for grammar and/or length.)
The pilot is necessary
Truckload Carriers Association: "The precautions included in the apprenticeship program will ensure that these 18-to-20-year-old drivers are trained and operate as safely as possible. In order for FMCSA to accurately track and monitor the safety performance of these drivers, and to ensure that all of the training procedures are being met, the proposed information collection is necessary."
Sarah Cohen: "Thankful for this being looked into. I’ve been in the transportation industry 22 years, and capacity has NEVER been worse. We need to do something. This is a step in the right direction. I've never understood the reasoning in limiting drivers under 21 to operate in-state only. Does a driver drive differently when they cross the state line? No."
"I've never understood the reasoning in limiting drivers under 21 to operate in-state only. Does a driver drive differently when they cross the state line? No."
Tim Kordula: "The average age of drivers in the trucking industry is 49-54 years old, the average age coming in is about the same ... A lot of blue-collar workers enter other fields at 18, 19 and 20 years old, including fighting for our country! ... There are companies that have routes that are only 50 miles long, but the younger drivers cannot haul the product because the freight is destined to cross state lines.
Look at the amount of probationary time [that] is required of these drivers, look at the technology that has to be in place for these drivers. We need to move this industry's age lower, we need to redefine what being in the transportation industry is. Bringing these young, smart drivers into the industry I see as nothing but a huge plus and benefit. We need to move on this so we can move the country."
A good idea with some tweaks
Glen Krueger: "I work for a company with a very extensive new driver training program. We have excellent trainers and we care about making sure the new driver is going to be safe on the road.
I have no doubt 18-20 year-olds could be safe with proper training. Thanks to technology they can be watched closely. Require an ELD and camera in the truck for 18-20 year-olds and restrict them to short-haul operations daily until they are 21 if the public needs to see some restriction on them."
Phil Killerlain: "I would like to see the training period be longer. More like an apprenticeship program with at least six months, and two of those must be in winter in the Northwest mountains area, or a skid pad course to replace it."
The program would help with recruitment
American Trucking Associations: "It is increasingly difficult for many companies to find the drivers they need, in part because federal rules prohibit drivers under the age of 21 from operating trucks in interstate commerce. ... This absurd administrative obstacle for carriers is true even though 49 states and the District of Columbia allow 18, 19, and 20-year-olds to drive trucks and deliver freight as long as it is within state lines and not part of an interstate move.
These restrictions make recruiting and retaining qualified truck drivers under 21 extremely difficult. Indeed, as a result of the interstate restriction, truck driver candidates under 21 are often forced to choose different paths or the industry has to forego introducing skilled drivers to well-paying middle-class jobs in interstate trucking until they become 21. As such, the industry cannot tap this talent for the drivers it needs."
Jaylon Douglas: "I live in South Carolina, I’m 19 years old with a CDL Class A. It is hard as hell to find a job at my age. It's sad that I’ve been wanting to do this all my childhood and now I gotta wait another two years until I turn 21. I understand some of us at our age aren’t ready or responsible yet, but some of us are. I really hope this program gets approved quickly. At this point, I’m starting to go towards another trade until I'm 21."
Inexperience will bring accidents
Emmanuel Diaz: "Accidents will increase with this 18-21 new age group coming into trucking. I believe more research must be concluded before acting on this decision. I say no to this pilot program."
Debra Posey: "I personally think every senator and the group of people wanting this law passed should get in a truck and see firsthand what it is all about ... When you start putting kids behind the wheel of 80,000 pounds, you're asking for more trouble. They can't bring a car out of a slide on wet roads, much less a big truck. ... I just wonder how many of you pushing for this will put your son or daughter behind that wheel."
Rebecca Aragon: "Definitely NOT A GOOD IDEA. The maturity level is not there. You see it when they drive their 4 wheeler vehicles they think the highway is a racetrack. A tractor/trailer is NOT A TOY. It's an 80,000-pound vessel.
The training is not long enough. Even the military trains for 90 days. ... The trainers would have to be EXCEPTIONAL drivers, not just drivers with six months training. I went to a three-month school, and drove 1K miles before I graduated. I trained five weeks and went all over the country. ... You are only as good as your teacher."
"I foresee an increase of CMV-related incidents, as well as insurance rates rising sharply if this goes through."
Giovanni Utzelli: "In regards to under 21 driving an 18 wheeler, I have 8 years out here and I can tell you 18-year-olds have no business driving these. You scream safety yet you want to push this through. What you are trying to do is the equivalent of handing a loaded gun to a toddler in a crowd.
They are not mature enough to make the decisions necessary for safe operation of a truck. They have a tendency to panic, for starters. ... Those in [the] military have more training and discipline because of how they are trained. It's not that way out here."
Rickie Youngquist: "[I've been] a truck driver now for 25-plus years, most of which has been OTR and having driven in every state in the United States until recently [when] I have taken a position as a trainer (CDL) at a school in Denver. With the caliber of students coming through the school, the thought of letting 18 year olds on the highways with a big rig hauling 80,000 pounds down American highways really scares the crap out of me.
To the lawmakers of this country, you put 18 year olds on the highway, then as far as I’m concerned the people they kill, the blood should be on your hands. This idea is ludicrous. And very irresponsible."
Joseph Rose: "At 18 years old, though technically one is classified as an "adult," their maturity level has not yet reached a level of proficiency that I would feel comfortable enough for one to be performing such a task or given such a large responsibility.
I foresee an increase of CMV-related incidents, as well as insurance rates rising sharply if this goes through. Sure, I've reviewed the "training requirements" within this act before a driver would be allowed to go solo, but let's agree to disagree here: folks behave differently when someone is in the truck observing their every move versus when they are left alone. The amount of "distracted driving" I see personally when I'm driving my rig and have a birds-eye view around me is staggering, to say the least."