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USDOT announces pilot program to allow under-21 drivers with military CDL

A USDOT 3-year pilot program would allow drivers under the age of 21 and holding a military CDL to drive interstate commerce when sponsored by a participating trucking company.

Following through on a mandated requirement as part of the FAST Act, the U.S. Department of Transportation will formerly announce a pilot program designed to transition military members into truck driving careers in interstate commerce.

The program, to be published in the Federal Register on Thursday, will allow 18- to 20-year olds who possess the U.S. Military equivalent of a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to operate large trucks in interstate commerce, USDOT said.

“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 Elaine Chao, U.S. Secretary of Transportation.

The program was manded by Section 5404 of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.

Under the pilot, candidates must be sponsored by a participating trucking company. The program pushes the industry one step closer to its goal of opening the doors to those under 21 to legally transport goods across state lines. Currently, CDL holders must be over 21 to cross state lines, but those under 21 can move goods within state borders, creating an odd situation for trucking companies. It’s possible under the current rules for a 19-year-old to drive an 80,000-pound truck 500 miles within a state’s border, but theoretically drive that same truck 4 miles in the opposite direction and break the law.

“As our nation prepares to celebrate Independence Day, Secretary Chao and I were excited to highlight a program I helped champion to provide truck driver jobs to young veterans,” said Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE). 

The pilot program will run for three years during which time the safety records of the drivers will be compared to a control group, USDOT said.

“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 U.S. Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE).

Efforts in the industry to lower the legal interstate driving age in response to the shortage of drivers have been ongoing for a few years. Earlier this year, U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) and U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth (R-IN) introduced the DRIVE-Safe Act (Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy Act). Still in the early stages, the bill would eliminate the over-21 requirement for interstate drivers, lowering the legal age to 18.

“This legislation will help train drivers to a level far and above current licensing standards. It creates opportunity while reinforcing a culture of safety,” John Kearney, CEO and President of Advanced Training Systems, said at the time.”

FMCSA itself first proposed the military pilot program on Aug. 22, 2016, in a Federal Register notice. That notice received 67 comments, with 40 in support of the program and 9 opposed. The agency said 18 comments were a form letter related to a specific agricultural program.

Brian Straight

Brian Straight leads FreightWaves' Modern Shipper brand as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler. You can reach him at [email protected]