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DOT pilot program to study the safety of 18-20 year-old commercial drivers

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On July 3, 2018, US Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao—in collaboration with Senator Deb Fischer and Congressman Don Bacon—announced the addition of a pilot program offered by the Department of Transportation (DOT) that will allow 18-20 year-old veterans and reservists to operate vehicles in interstate commerce.

Provided that “they have received specified heavy-vehicle driver training while in military service and were hired by a participating motor carrier,” drivers will be able to participate in the three-year pilot program in the near future.  

FreightWaves spoke with Reliance Partners’ Vice President of Sales, Gentry Smith, to hear about the pilot program from an insurance perspective. Reliance Partners is a leading insurance brokerage for the transportation industry, covering owner-operated drivers, large fleets, and carriers of various sizes in between. “The pilot program seems fantastic in theory from a number of stand points. It’s great to see any sort of program inserting our veterans in to day-to-day jobs after they serve” Smith noted.

As Supply Chain Dive reported, “The basic training programs for heavy vehicle operations in the military were reviewed by both the FMCSA and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators and determined to be equal to, or greater than, the standards required for a civilian CDL applicant.”

First proposed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in 2016, this program “will determine whether persons under the age of 21 can safely operate CMVs in interstate commerce, and to enhance opportunities for persons with relevant military training to enter the CMV industry.” Throughout the program, the young drivers will have their safety records compared to those of a control group.

According to the FMCSA, this study aims to make two important determinations:

“(1) whether the safety outcomes of drivers, under the age of 21 with military experience, operating heavy vehicles in interstate commerce are similar to the safety outcomes of drivers between the ages of 21 to 24, and

(2) how training and experience impact the safety of the 18 to 20 year-old driving population.”

“This innovative program offers a way for our younger Veterans and Reservists to transition to the civilian workforce. I personally thank Secretary Chao and officials with the DOT who continue to find ways to utilize the training and talent of the men and women who served in uniform for our country,” said Congressman Bacon.

The DOT’s pilot program could also be instrumental in combating the driver squeeze, as Secretary Chao acknowledged earlier this month. “This program will allow our Veterans and Reservists to translate their extensive training into good-paying jobs operating commercial vehicles safely across the country, while also addressing the nationwide driver shortage,” said Secretary Chao.

Smith seconded Chao’s beliefs about the squeeze, providing his own point-of-view from the transportation insurance industry: “We see the shortage and its effects fairly regularly – especially on fleet accounts that are growing and/or employ owner/operators; if the veteran’s experience and training from 18-20 yields to positive returns and safe driving across the board, it would be beneficial to translate that after the pilot and see more younger drivers being approved and on the road.”

Although the DOT did not publish a start date for this pilot program, the results could certainly make a mark on the industry, as Smith concluded: “If the pilot is successful, I’d expect positive results from an insurance standpoint as well. There would obviously be an expected uptick in drivers being approved by different insurance carriers with a correlating uptick in trucks on the road. In theory, the more of both in a safe capacity would help the market see lower rates.”

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