Infrastructure bill includes path for long-haul drivers as young as 18

August 11, 2021

John Bendel


Congress is opening the door for CDL holders as young as 18 to drive long-haul in interstate commerce. Currently, interstate drivers must be at least 21. The change is part of the massive bill called the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that was approved Tuesday by the U.S. Senate. The same legislation calls for a driver compensation study to learn how various methods of pay affect safety and driver retention.

With one substantial change, what had been known as the DRIVE-Safe Act became the Apprenticeship Pilot Program provision of the 2,700-page infrastructure bill. The apprenticeship provisions outlined in the pilot program are almost identical to those in the DRIVE-Safe Act, but are now in the context of a pilot program to be overseen by the secretary of transportation. The pilot apprenticeship program will allow as many as 3,000 participants between 18 and 20 at any time during the three-year course of the program.

“We remain staunchly opposed to allowing drivers 18 to 20 years old to enter the long-haul industry, but we appreciate the careful negotiations among stakeholders and senators resulting in a three-year pilot program,” said OOIDA president Todd Spencer.

“While not perfect, it’s better than fully opening up licenses to teen drivers as proposed in the DRIVE-Safe Act. We’re also pleased the committee was able to enhance some provisions related to truck driver trainers and include a critical compensation study,” Spencer said.

The compensation study is to be conducted by the Transportation Research Board, a division of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

The apprentice program requires a young driver to complete two periods of on-duty time accompanied by a driver 26 years of age or older who has at least five years of experience.

The DRIVE-Safe Act would have required the supervising driver be only 21 with two years of experience.

The first probationary period consists of 120 on-duty hours, at least 80 of which are behind the wheel with the experienced driver in the shotgun seat. At the end of the 120-hour period, the carrier must decide if the young driver is competent to drive in interstate and city traffic as well as two-lane and evening driving, according to the legislation. The apprentice must also demonstrate safety awareness, speed and space management, lane control, mirror scanning, and turns, as well as logging and compliance with hours of service rules.

The young driver can then go on to the second probationary period consisting of 280 on-duty hours. At least 160 of those hours must be driving time. The carrier must be satisfied the young driver is competent at backing and maneuvering in close quarters, pre-trip inspections, and fueling. The driver must be competent in coupling and uncoupling procedures, weighing loads, weight distribution, and sliding tandems. Finally, he or she must be competent in trip planning, truck routes, map reading, navigation, and permits.

Upon completion of the apprenticeship program and with the documented approval of the carrier, a young driver may legally drive a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce, unless the secretary of transportation determines there is a safety concern.

Competency determinations are made entirely by the young driver’s employer – most likely a truckload carrier. With driver turnover at roughly 90% across the industry, most truckload carriers are under pressure to hire and retain drivers.

The entire infrastructure bill must still be approved by the House of Representatives before it goes to President Biden’s desk. LL


WW Williams

John Bendel is Land Line’s contributing editor-at-large. A former trucker, former editor at National Lampoon and two trucking magazines, John is an author, photographer, and freelancer. His work has appeared in the New York Times, The Washington Post, and many U.S. newspapers.