FMCSA denies company’s exemption for under-21 pilot program

May 8, 2024

Mark Schremmer


The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has denied a trucking company’s request to let it use under-21 commercial learner’s permit holders for the agency’s apprenticeship pilot program.

FMCSA announced the denial in a notice that is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Thursday, May 9.

Pitt Ohio, a trucking company based in Pittsburgh, made the request in February 2023, saying that it would “have less difficulty recruiting drivers to participate” in FMCSA’s Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program. Currently, drivers in the program must hold a commercial driver’s license and complete separate 120- and 280-hour probationary periods during their apprenticeship with registered motor carriers.

FMCSA said the company failed to show it would be able to achieve an equivalent safety level with the exemption.

Opposition to exemption

The agency received 23 comments on the request with 16 opposed. Trucking safety groups, in particular, were unimpressed by the logic behind the exemption.

“Pitt-Ohio Express has not met the measure of evidence required to prove an equivalent or greater level of safety in its exemption application,” the Truck Safety Coalition wrote. “They only request that FMCSA dilute the program requirements in misplaced efforts to make it easier to attract under-21 drivers. Any measures taken to weaken existing safety requirements in this reckless and short-sighted program directed by Congress must be forcefully opposed by FMCSA.”

Under-21 program

As required in the 2021 Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act, FMCSA created the under-21 apprenticeship pilot program in 2022.

Interest in the program has been underwhelming. In April, it was reported that FMCSA had received only 113 applications from motor carriers. Only 34 of those carriers had been fully approved to participate in the program.

The argument for the creation of the pilot program was based on claims of there being a truck driver shortage.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has refuted those claims and has contended that lowering the interstate driving age will hinder safety.

“For decades, large motor carriers and others have peddled the myth of a ‘driver shortage’ in an effort to find the cheapest labor possible without first addressing longstanding driver turnover problems,” Jay Grimes, OOIDA’s director of federal affairs, said in April. “This turnover makes it challenging to retain drivers and develop a well-trained workforce. The lack of participation in the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Program to this point is another signal that the industry must prioritize driver retention. This includes addressing inadequate pay, poor working conditions, minimal training requirements and truck parking, among other concerns.”

In recent years, more organizations have reached the opinion that there is not a driver shortage.

Economics professor Stephen V. Burks recently published a study that called ATA’s driver shortage claims “unconvincing.” Even worse, Burks concluded that the false narrative can lead to “dangerous” policies, such as allowing under-21 drivers to operate in interstate commerce. LL