A pilot test program intended to find out if 18, 19 and 20-year-olds can safely drive heavy duty trucks is now underway.
The three-year program laucnhed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will admit 200 younger under two circumstances. One is if they have operated intrastate commercial motor vehicles for at least a year and 25,000 miles.
Another group could be hired directly by trucking operations to drive in interstate commerce as long as they have sufficient training and supervision.
Both groups must serve a 280-hour probationary period (including 120 hours of driving time) under apprenticeship programs that are established by the trucking employers.
FMCSA said it would also prioritize approval for participation in the program for those motor carriers that choose to equip their vehicles with additional technologies, such as various collision avoidance systems and lane centering.
A separate program began in 2018 allows 18- to 20-year-olds who possess the U.S. military equivalent of a CDL to drive trucks in interstate commerce.
“This is a significant step toward improving safety on our nation’s roads, setting a standard for these drivers that is well beyond what 49 states currently require,” said American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear. “This is an amazing block of talent with unlimited potential.”
However, the program has drawn criticism from some quarters, including public safety advocates, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and the Teamsters union.
OOIDA argues there are better and safer ways to hire more truck drivers, like increasing pay. It fears younger drivers will be subject to inadequate working conditions and will be used to maintain a cheap labor supply, resulting in higher driver turnover rates instead of creating long-term careers in the industry..