FMCSA reveals pilot program for under-21 drivers

September 4, 2020

Mark Schremmer

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A week after announcing a proposal to start a pilot program regarding a potential hours-of-service provision, the FMCSA has announced it is proposing a pilot program that would allow under-21 drivers to operate in interstate commerce.

“This action will allow the agency to carefully examine the safety, feasibility, and possible economic benefits of allowing 18- to 20-year-old drivers to operate in interstate commerce,” FMCSA acting Administrator Wiley Deck said in a news release sent on Friday, Sept. 4. “Safety is always FMCSA’s top priority, so we encourage drivers, motor carriers, and interested citizens to review this proposed new pilot program and share their thoughts and opinions.”

The notice of the proposed pilot program is expected to publish in the Federal Register next week. Once it does, a 60-day public comment period is expected to begin.

In order to be included in the pilot program, FMCSA said the drivers must fall in one of two categories:

  • 18- to 20-year-old CDL holders who operate commercial motor vehicles in interstate commerce while taking part in a 120-hour probationary period and a subsequent 280-hour probationary period under an apprenticeship program established by an employer.
  • 19- and 20-year-old commercial drivers who have operated commercial motor vehicles in intrastate commerce for a minimum of one year and 25,000 miles.

FMCSA said the drivers in the pilot program would not be allowed to haul passengers, hazardous materials, or special configuration vehicles.

Current regulations allow 18- to 20-year-old drivers to operate in intrastate commerce. In the news release, FMCSA pointed out that those drivers are currently permitted to make such in-state trips as Houston to El Paso in Texas, and Miami to Tallahassee in Florida. Those one-way trips are 744 and 482 miles, respectively. It also is often mentioned that the intrastate limitations create problems, especially in such border cities as Kansas City.

Arguments against

Opponents of those arguments contend that the way to fix both of those problems would be to create a mile restriction for the under-21 drivers rather than base it off the state borders.

OOIDA has been vocal in its opposition of allowing under-21 drivers to operate long haul.

“There’s absolutely no reason whatsoever that FMCSA needs a pilot program to discover what decades and decades of highway safety data has proven – younger drivers and inexperienced drivers crash more,” said Jay Grimes, OOIDA’s director of federal affairs. “This program will no doubt lead to more crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving large trucks.

“OOIDA also fears that younger drivers will be subject to inadequate working conditions and be used to maintain a cheap labor supply that will only result in higher driver turnover rates rather than long-term careers in the industry. We believe the agency should be working to reverse the increasing trend of crashes and promoting policies that help make trucking a rewarding, sustainable profession. This pilot program accomplishes neither of those objectives.”

OOIDA reiterated those concerns in its official comments to FMCSA submitted in August 2019.

One of the reasons for the push to lower the driving age is because of the contention that there is a shortage of truck drivers.

For years, OOIDA has said the driver shortage is a myth. Last year, the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics issued a report that affirmed the Association’s stance.

Another pilot program

FMCSA has announced pilot programs for consecutive weeks. Last week, the agency revealed plans for a program that would look at providing drivers the ability to pause their 14-hour clock anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours. FMCSA will accept comments on the pilot program until Nov. 2.

Mark Schremmer

Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.