Driver issuesNewsTrucking Regulation

FMCSA ‘struggling’ with under-21 CDL pilot for military vets

At ATA conference, agency chief Wiley Deck reveals lack of participation will require program extension

Lack of participation in a program meant to address a shortfall of drivers entering the trucking industry is forcing regulators to adjust.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) will be extending its Under 21 Military Commercial Drivers License (CDL) Pilot Program beyond the three-year period typically set by Congress for such projects, according to FMCSA Deputy Administrator Wiley Deck.

“We are struggling trying to get drivers into the program,” Deck acknowledged during a regulatory update Friday at the American Trucking Associations (ATA) Management Conference & Exhibition, held virtually this year due to the pandemic.

“We’ve engaged the National Guard, the Reserves, and have gone out to speak to large classes of drivers being trained at various training facilities around the country, but we just haven’t made any headway. While the study is supposed to run for three years, it will have to be extended just because we’re not getting the drivers that we need to get a good sampling of data that we need.”

The agency announced earlier this month that it wanted to expand the program to include a wider array of military service specialties that it said would make an additional 30,000 service members eligible for the pilot, which began last year and initially sought to enroll at least 200 drivers. Deck said there were currently 42 trucking companies enrolled.

The FMCSA and the ATA have deemed the under-21 pilot projects — the agency is considering a nonmilitary, under-21 pilot as well — crucial to expanding the pool of available, qualified drivers.

“Nobody is collecting data on the under-21 drivers that are operating intrastate,” Deck said. “FMCSA is the only entity in the U.S. that can do this type of research because we are the only ones that have the authority to waive the necessary regulations.”

Deck provided updates on a number of other rulemakings and petitions, all of which are either currently under review within FMCSA or DOT, or at the Office of Management and Budget. They include broker transparency, changes to regulations to address automated driving systems, and using hair to test drivers for drugs.

Deck also updated the industry on two safety issues highlighted in a report published Friday by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General: truck crashes and trucking company safety scores.

A Large Truck Crash Causal Factor Study, being conducted with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, will bring updated factors such as drivers distracted by cell phones into crash assessments, he said. “The purpose of the study is to expand on knowledge we learned 17 years ago,” he said. While data collection is expected to continue into 2021, Deck also noted that the study, which is estimated to cost $30 million, is contingent on federal funding.

With regard to assessing a new scoring system within FMCSA’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program, “we are making headway. We’re in final review of IRT [Item Response Theory] and how it can help improve our system of monitoring those high-risk carriers,” Deck said.

“It’s a challenging system, and the challenging part for the agency is to explain how we derive our numbers. IRT makes this a lot more challenging. We hope to make an announcement in the near future on the path forward we’re going to take.”

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  1. Start a program for US older veterans and I’d almost guarantee that you’d have more applicants in a MONTH than you’ve had this whole u21 pilot launch.

  2. This was predicable from the get go. The vast majority of those in the military who are under 21 are on active duty unless they been released for medical reasons or poor performance. Guard and Reserve recruits under 21 are often tied up with initial boot camp and follow on technical training. An as a previous comment indicated, these folks are self motivated and have many opportunities other than OTR trucking. This pilot program was nothing more than lip service from the beginning. With 48-years of experience in the transportation industry (25-military), if we are going to provide under 21 drivers an opportunity to drive in an interstate environment, we need to establish stringent training requirements using the Drive-Safe-Act as a base line and allow non-military under 21 drivers to participate in these pilot programs.

  3. Many vets have other job offers better than O T R truck driving in Ontario Canada in security, fire depts and the trades. Until truck drivers pay and treatment improves it is not a good type of work.

John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.