Share
May 14, 2019 5:45 PM, EDT

FMCSA Seeks Comment on Pilot Program for Young Drivers

Ray Martinez, FMCSA Administrator FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez at the 2018 Management Conference & Exhibition. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is seeking public comment on a potential pilot program that would allow drivers between the ages of 18 and 20 to operate trucks interstate.

Current federal law does not allow this age group to drive Class 8 commercial motor vehicles across state lines.

According to a May 14 announcement, FMCSA is requesting comments specifically on the training, qualifications, limitations and vehicle safety systems that should be considered in developing options for the pilot.

“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,” FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez said in a statement. “We encourage all CMV stakeholders to submit comments on a potential interstate pilot program for younger drivers.”

Younger drivers often have been the target of fleets trying to redress the driver shortage. American Trucking Associations estimates that the industry is short at least 50,000 drivers.

According to a Federal Register notice, FMCSA is asking for comments in response to two general questions:

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

Elaine Chao, Transportation Secretary

Chao

“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,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said in a statement.

FMCSA’s initiative builds on the federal Commercial Driver Pilot Program, which was announced in July 2018 and allows certain 18- to 20-year-olds with military training to operate trucks interstate.

Members of the trucking community have long supported efforts to integrate younger people into the industry. The Truckload Carriers Association in 2000 petitioned FMCSA to conduct a pilot program geared toward younger drivers. A common argument is that many young people graduate from high school and abandon trucking aspirations to pursue another trade because of the interstate trucking age rules.

ATA has supported legislation that would allow 18- to 21-year-olds to drive interstate with proper training.

Chris Spear, ATA president

Spear

One such piece of legislation is the Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy, or DRIVE-Safe Act, which proposes a two-step program for prospective young drivers to complete once they obtain a commercial driver license. The legislation, introduced in March, would require these drivers to log 400 hours of on-duty time and 240 hours of driving time with an experienced driver in the cab after earning a CDL. Once completed, the young driver would be able to participate in interstate commerce.

Jeremy Reymer, founder and CEO of Indianapolis-based recruitment management company DriverReach, said the FMCSA’s public comment window bodes well for the concept of reducing the age limit from 21 to 18.

“Because of a strategic focus on bipartisan support, those in favor of the bill feel confident about it reaching the enactment stage,” Reymer said. “What truly matters is creating safer and younger drivers. We just need to cooperate to get there.”

ATA applauded FMCSA’s efforts to gather input on a pilot program meant for young nonmilitary drivers.

“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,” ATA President Chris Spear said in a statement. “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.”