More data should be studied and made public before federal regulators allow a pilot project aimed at getting interstate commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs) in the hands of those under 21 to go forward, according to several high-profile truck safety groups.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) asked for public comment on whether to move forward on a pilot program for all drivers under 21 – as it is doing currently for those with military driving experience – on May 15, as a means of addressing what the agency considers a “chronic shortage” of drivers willing and able to enter the industry.
FreightWaves has learned that a 30-day extension of the July 15 comment period deadline, requested by the American Trucking Associations (ATA), was likely to be granted to allow the association to continue to gather safety and performance data.
The ATA and representatives of other large-fleet trucking associations support the pilot project idea, including the National Tank Truck Carriers and the California Trucking Association. They insist it would help fill seats by expanding the potential driver pool.
But advocacy groups such as the National Safety Council (NSC) warn that putting younger drivers behind the wheel for longer distances would lead to more crashes.
“The data is clear; teen drivers carry more risk and CMV [commercial motor vehicle] crashes are more likely to result in fatalities,” NSC commented. “While NSC understands the trucking industry’s need to maintain an eligible workforce, we believe that combining teens and CMVs creates an unacceptable level of risk for all who share our nation’s roadways.” If FMCSA does decide on rolling out a pilot project, NSC stated, it “must require operational data, including crashes, training and other relevant data to be publicly reported in a timely manner.”
Eric Teoh, senior statistician for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), said that given the current pilot for military drivers under 21, it would be “premature” for the FMCSA to propose another.
“IIHS encourages FMCSA to take the steps of learning from the results of the pilot program of 18- to 20-year-olds with military trucking experience and conducting basic research on crash risk and driver age among intrastate CDL holders,” the group stated.
If FMCSA ends up approving the pilot, it should require as a condition “substantial experience” driving large trucks with a CDL in intrastate commerce, IIHS asserted. “Furthermore, this required experience should be with a clean driving record including no crashes, no moving violations and no roadside inspection violations that resulted in a truck being placed out-of-service.”
The Governors Highway Safety Association pointed to statistics showing that 94 percent of truckers are male, and that fatal crash data finds that the rate of involvement in fatal crashes per 100,000 licensed drivers is twice as high for males as it is for females for both young and older teens. It also noted that among crashes involving teenage drivers, older male teens are less likely to use seat belts and more likely to have alcohol in their system.
“In sum, the very population of teens that would take the wheel under FMCSA’s proposed program are not only at-risk teen drivers, but arguably the most at-risk cohort of this population,” wrote the association’s chairman Darrin Grondel.
Over 600 comments had been filed on the proposal as of July 15, many of which were from independent owner-operators. While many from that group support a pilot program, others among them opposed it. “More training is needed for any person wanting to drive a truck, young and old,” wrote one. “This is not the way to fill empty truck seats.”
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) agrees with statistics showing that drivers under 21 are more likely to be involved in crashes. Instead of another pilot program, OOIDA President Todd Spencer said the federal government should “be taking steps to reverse the incessantly high driver turnover rate, which remains above 90 percent among large truckload carriers.”