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Regulators considering drivers under 21 for interstate hauls

A “chronic shortage” of drivers entering the trucking industry is fueling a proposal that could eventually allow 18- to 20-year-olds to haul freight between states, according to federal regulators.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) on May 14 announced it will be seeking public comments on a pilot program for drivers 18-20 similar to an ongoing three-year pilot project for 18-20-year-olds that have military training.

“We want input from the public on efforts that offer the potential to create more jobs in the commercial motor vehicle industry, while maintaining the highest level of safety,” commented FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez.

“Commercial trucks and buses are essential to a thriving national economy, and the Department [of Transportation] wants to ensure the public has an opportunity to comment on this important potential change,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

States currently allow drivers under 21 to haul freight within state boundaries, but federal law requires drivers be at least 21 before they can legally haul between states. Lowering the age limit recently received bi-partisan support in Congress with the reintroduction of the Drive Safe Act in February.

Among major trucking industry groups, however, support for allowing younger drivers to hold an interstate commercial driver’s license is divided sharply between large trucking companies and independent drivers. The American Trucking Associations (ATA) calls the proposal a “common-sense step” because they already are allowed to drive a truck on intrastate moves.

“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,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear.

But the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) contends commercial drivers under 21 are more likely to be involved in crashes. The FMCSA’s pilot program “would go against FMCSA’s goal of improving highway safety,” asserted OOIDA President Todd Spencer.

“Rather than developing ways to allow more teenagers behind the wheel of commercial trucks, the federal government should be taking steps to reverse the incessantly high driver turnover rate, which remains above 90 percent among large truckload carriers,” he said. “Efforts should focus on improving the industry instead of trying to hire more cheap labor.”

The public comment period on the new pilot project is scheduled to be formally announced on May 15.

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John Gallagher, Washington Correspondent

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.

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