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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has formally announced establishment of the truck driver apprenticeship program that was included in last year’s sweeping $1 trillion infrastructure bill, an initiative that will train candidates younger than 21 to drive in interstate commerce for the first time ever.
Previously, under-21 drivers have been limited to intrastate operations.
The Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program, announced in a Jan. 13 FMCSA pre-publication Federal Register post, is designed to help alleviate the trucking industry’s ongoing driver shortage.
The pilot is open to 18- to 20-year-old drivers who already hold intrastate commercial driver licenses. It sets a strict training regimen for participating drivers and motor carriers to follow.
FMCSA said it will monitor motor carrier and driver performance throughout the program to ensure safety.
The pilot is substantially the same as one proposed in a September 2020 Federal Register notice, FMCSA said.
The pilot includes two probationary periods — one for 120 hours and the other for 280 hours — and mandates specific vehicle safety technologies be installed on trucks used by participants.
Due to the similarity between the pilot program proposed in September 2020 and the requirements for the program mandated by the infrastructure bill, FMCSA has determined that the earlier notice — and the comments received then — can satisfy its public notice and comment requirements.
“Once implemented, FMCSA will publish, on the agency’s website, an announcement that applications are being accepted for participation in the pilot program,” the agency said. “The website will also provide links to the application forms and other helpful information for motor carriers and drivers interested in participating in the pilot program.”
During the probationary period, drivers may transport goods across state lines only under the supervision of an experienced driver who is in the passenger seat. An experienced driver is defined as one at least 26 years old who has held a CDL, been employed for at least the past two years, has at least five years of interstate CMV experience, and has had no preventable accidents reportable to the agency or pointed moving violations.
The first probationary period must include at least 120 hours of on-duty time, of which at least 80 hours are driving time in a commercial motor vehicle.
During this period, the employing motor carrier must ensure the apprentice:
- Completes the required hours of driving time, and;
- Is competent in each of the following areas: interstate, city traffic, rural 2-lane and evening driving; safety awareness; speed and space management; lane control; mirror scanning; right and left turns; and logging and complying with rules relating to hours of service.
After the 120-hour probationary period, the apprentice must complete a 280-hour probationary period. During this period, the candidate must complete 280 hours of on-duty time, including no fewer than 160 hours of driving time in a CMV.
During this period the motor carrier must ensure:
- The candidate completes the required driving time;
- Is competent in each of the following areas: backing and maneuvering in close quarters; pre-trip inspections; fueling procedures; weighing loads, weight distribution and sliding tandems; coupling and uncoupling procedures; and trip planning, truck routes, map reading, navigation and permits.
“An apprentice may drive a CMV in interstate commerce after the apprentice completes the 120-hour probationary period and the 280-hour probationary period; however, the apprentice is still considered to be participating in the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program, and their safety performance must continue to be monitored by the employing motor carrier, including monthly safety performance reports filed with FMCSA, until the driver reaches the age of 21,” FMCSA said.
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Motor carriers interested in participating must complete an application for participation and submit monthly data on an apprentice’s driver activity (e.g., vehicle miles traveled, duty hours, driving hours, off-duty time or breaks), safety outcomes (e.g., crashes, violations and safety-critical events), and any additional supporting information (e.g., onboard monitoring systems or investigative reports from previous crashes).
In addition, carriers will be required to notify FMCSA within 24 hours of: (1) any injury or fatal crash involving an apprentice; (2) an apprentice receiving an alcohol-related citation in any vehicle (e.g., driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated); (3) an apprentice choosing to leave the pilot program; (4) an apprentice leaving the carrier; or (5) an apprentice failing a random or post-crash drug/alcohol test.
If at any time while participating in this pilot an apprentice is disqualified for a major offense, serious traffic violations, railroad-highway grade crossing violation or violation of an out-of-service order, he or she will be disqualified and removed from the program, the agency said.
In its 2020 announcement regarding the pilot, FMCSA said the large majority of comments were supportive of the proposal.
The agency received 191 distinct comment submissions, 127 of which favored the proposal with 50 expressing opposition. Twenty members of Congress submitted a letter supporting the program. FMCSA said more than 139 individuals and 62 organizations submitted comments.
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