In addition to funding highways and bridges, the recently enacted $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act has set ambitious goals for workforce development in manufacturing and the transportation industries.
Most notably, the new law targets the truck driver shortage by creating an apprentice pilot program intended to boost the number of professional drivers by allowing recruits under the age of 21 to get behind the wheel under certain circumstances.
“The way the provision works is it’s a mentorship type, apprenticeship type of initiative that tries to manage the potential for there to be a safety tradeoff,” Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg explained to reporters. “We want as many people to be qualified drivers as possible, but never at the expense of safety.”
The initiative enjoys the support of the trucking industry as represented by American Trucking Associations and the Truckload Carriers Association, which have been seeking relaxation of the driver age standard for many years.
Critics of the plan include the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which says allowing younger drivers behind the wheels of heavy trucks will negatively impact highway safety.
“The younger you are, the more you crash,” declared OOIDA spokesperson Norita Taylor.
The program states that these drivers can enter interstate service after completing a 120-hour probationary period. An apprentice also must complete 280 hours of on-duty time, of which not less than 160 hours must consist of driving time in a commercial motor vehicle.
To be allowed to drive professionally, at the end of this training period the apprentice must prove that he or she is competent in such skills as: backing and maneuvering in close quarters; pre-trip inspections; fueling procedures; weighing loads; coupling and uncoupling procedures; and trip planning, truck routes, map reading, navigation and permits.