The Under 21 Driver Pilot Program: What’s It All About?
Earlier this year, the U.S. Senate introduced a new piece of legislation called the DRIVE- Safe Act, which would reduce the minimum age for driving trucks to 18 years old. Although it received bipartisan support once before, it did not make it to a vote. Despite the partisan support the bill has so far received, some critics hold the bill’s vague language as one of the main problems with the legislation. However, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has taken the first step towards providing tangible guidelines for this bill through a new pilot program to allow drivers under the age of 21 operate in interstate commerce.
How the Pilot Program Works
Although the logistics of the program have not been fully formed yet, the FMCSA has so far stated it would be a three-year pilot program studying the “feasibility, benefits, and safety impacts of allowing 18-20 year-old drivers to operate commercial motor vehicles in interstate commerce."
In order to be eligible for the program, underage drivers who want to participate would have to have already received their heavy-vehicle driver training and experience while in military service and are sponsored or hired by a participating motor carrier.
The FMCSA will also have a control group of drivers aged 21-24 who have a commercial drivers’ license and comparable training and experience driving commercial trucks. That control group will be used to compare performance across the two groups and see whether age is a critical factor in driver safety. The results of the program will be sent to the Secretary of Transportation which will be reported to Congress to help them make an informed decision on the DRIVE-Safe Act.
Industry Opinions on the Program
While the American Trucking Association (ATA) has supported this bill, the Owner-Operated Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) have opposed the program. The ATA calls the pilot program a “common sense” path, since drivers under 21 are already allowed to drive if they have military experience, and because younger people should be able to fully participate in the industry.
However, the OOIDA opposes the program because younger drivers “lack the maturity and experience to operate a CMV at the safest levels,” and would therefore go against FMCSA’s goal of improving highway safety. The OOIDA also states that the problem isn’t a shortage of drivers: it’s the “extremely high turnover rates” of experienced drivers. Instead, the OOIDA says, efforts should be focused on “hiring and retaining the most experienced drivers, not expanding the funnel of driver churn.”
Whether you think the pilot program is a good or bad idea, you as an industry expert have the ability to get involved. You can submit a formal comment on the Federal Register here, and you can leave a comment for congress to read on regulations.gov here.
If you prefer good, old-fashioned snail mail, you can mail your comment to the following address:
Docket Management Facility
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave. SE
West Building Ground Floor Room W-12-140
Washington, D.C. 20590-0001
Be sure to include the docket ID FMCSA-2018-0346.
So, what do you think? Should the FMCSA go ahead with their pilot program? Should they even begin the experiment? Let us know in the comments below!