The federal government’s primary trucking regulator conceded to lawmakers that it may be difficult to get enough qualified participants in its pilot project for drivers under 21 to make the project viable.
Testifying before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee on June 19, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) chief Ray Martinez confirmed that the under-21 military pilot project for interstate commercial truck drivers, for which the agency began taking applications in early June, will need at least 200 participants.
But Martinez agreed with Senator Jon Tester (D-Montana) that young drivers with experience in the military “aren’t 18 anymore,” and because of the amount of time required for military service, “they’re probably already eligible to drive across state lines,” Tester said. “If you’re looking to get accurate information, that pilot program isn’t going to tell you what you need to know.”
“I understand that, and it’s one of the challenges of the pilot program,” Martinez responded.
During the hearing, which called on agencies within the U.S. Department of Transportation to testify on safety issues, Martinez noted that the FMCSA is hoping to get better information on the potential for drivers under 21 to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL) through a proposed rulemaking that would broaden the scope of the effort by not requiring military experience.
Tester recommended, however, that a faster way to that end would be for the FMCSA to support legislation re-introduced earlier this year in both the Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives that would make it legal for those 18 to 20 to obtain a CDL for interstate hauling. The legislation, called the “DRIVE-Safe Act,” sets up an apprenticeship program requiring young drivers to complete at least 400 hours of on-duty time and 240 hours of driving time with an experienced driver in the cab with them.
“Because there is an education component to the Senate bill, you guys should come forth and let us know whether you support that or not, because if the Department [of Transportation] doesn’t support it, we’re not going to get it passed, in my opinion, because everyone’s concerned about safety,” Tester said.
Martinez had earlier testified, however, that the agency generally does not take a position on proposed legislation, preferring instead to use pilot programs to gather data before proposing a regulation. “But we want to engage with Congress on this issue, because I hear about it every day from stakeholders around the country. We understand that there is a shortage of drivers, so we want to be helpful there.”