The pilot program allows a limited number of drivers ages 18 to 21 to drive CMVs in interstate commerce if they possess the military equivalent of a CDL.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced Monday it is accepting applications for a pilot program to permit 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.
Drivers under 21 currently can drive commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) in intrastate operations but cannot drive interstate. Section 5404 of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act directed the pilot program, which is scheduled to last up to three years, to allow a limited number of individuals between the ages of 18 and 20 to operate large trucks in interstate commerce if they possess the military equivalent of the CDL and are sponsored by a participating trucking company.
Once a participating driver reaches 21 years old, he or she will no longer participate in the program and will be replaced by a new individual meeting the requirement.
The administration hopes to include at least 200 participants under 21 years old as well as 200 control drivers, who will be between 21 and 24 years old with a CDL and experience driving commercial trucks. The safety records of the two groups will be compared, according to the FMCSA’s website.
“We are excited to launch this program to help the brave men and women who serve our country explore employment opportunities in the commercial motor vehicle industry,” said FMCSA administrator Raymond Martinez in the announcement. “With the nation’s economy reaching new heights, the trucking industry continues to need drivers and have job openings. We encourage veterans and reservists to apply and to learn more about this exciting new program.”
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) raised concerns about the program.
“OOIDA is proud to have thousands of veterans as members and supports programs that promote them entering trucking,” an OOIDA spokesperson told American Shipper by email. “However, we have reservations about lowering the age of drivers to address a perceived driver shortage, which is actually a problem with turnover and retention. Driving long-haul, commercial trucks on U.S. highways for a living is very different from the controlled environment of the military, which includes time spent training in other areas.”
As many as 900,000 new drivers will be needed by 2027 as more aging truckers leave the industry, according to an April American Shipper article. The Bureau of Labor Statistics published an article in March that argued there would be no driver shortage if wages improved enough.
“[Carriers] could deal with driver turnover by offering better wages and benefits and improved working condition,” said OOIDA President Todd Spencer in a March press release. “But putting young drivers behind the wheel of a truck isn’t the solution because it does nothing to address the underlying issues that push drivers out of the industry. It merely exacerbates the churn.”
The FMCSA also announced on May 14 it is seeking public comment on a second pilot program that would allow non-military drivers ages 18 to 20 to operate CMVs in interstate commerce. Comments are sought on the training, qualifications, driving limitations and vehicle safety systems the administration should consider in developing options or approaches for the pilot program.
Both the OOIDA and Teamsters, the nation’s largest trucking union, voiced opposition to the non-military program.
“During the last highway bill, the FAST Act, Congress dictated how FMCSA could approach this topic. FMCSA was told it could do so in a highly controlled manner using only veterans and other members of the military who had experience driving during their time in the service,” Jim Hoffa, Teamsters general president, said in a statement. “That safeguard was an important step towards counteracting the enormous safety risks inherent with having teenagers running tractor-trailers across long distances. Ignoring that decision and unilaterally deciding to explore a much broader pilot program represents a dismissive wave of the hand to the will of Congress.”
The American Trucking Associations (ATA), however, supported FMCSA’s expansion of the pilot program.
“Allowing younger drivers who are already moving goods intrastate to drive interstate is a common-sense step that has support not just from the trucking industry but from a broad coalition,” ATA President and CEO Chris Spear said in a statement. “Between FMCSA’s proposed pilot project and the bipartisan support for the Drive SAFE Act in Congress, we hope we will soon create a path for more young people to fully participate in our industry.”