OOIDA: Don’t allow mega fleets to take advantage of young drivers

November 10, 2020

Mark Schremmer

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The myth of a truck driver shortage shouldn’t be used to take advantage of teenagers, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association wrote in formal comments opposing a pilot program for under-21 interstate drivers.

In September, the FMCSA proposed a pilot program that would look at the “safety, feasibility, and possible economic benefits” of allowing 18- to 20-year-old CDL holders to operate in interstate commerce. Current regulations allow under-21 drivers to operate intrastate but prevent younger drivers from hauling loads cross country.

OOIDA submitted its comments on Nov. 9.

“For decades, our country’s largest motor carriers, and the trade associations that represent them, have perpetuated the myth of a driver shortage to promote policies designed to maintain the cheapest labor supply possible,” OOIDA wrote in comments signed by President and CEO Todd Spencer.

“Experience tells us many of the entities pushing for the change in the current age requirement would simply use it to take advantage of a new pool of drivers – teenagers, who would be subjected to poor working conditions, predatory lease-to-own schemes, and woefully inadequate compensation.”

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.

“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. “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.”

However, OOIDA said it doesn’t want under-21 drivers to be used as a pawn in mega fleets’ search for a new pool of cheap labor.

Much of the push for allowing under-21 drivers to operate interstate has been based around the idea that there is a shortage of truck drivers. The DRIVE-Safe Act has gained support in the House and the Senate based on this assertion.

However, OOIDA has contended that the idea of a driver shortage isn’t based in fact. Instead, the Association argues that any issues mega fleets have in finding a truck driver to put in the seat is a turnover problem rooted in low pay and poor working conditions. Turnover rates near 100% are common for the largest fleets. In 2019, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics issued a report that said the evidence did not support the theory of a labor shortage and that any issues with recruitment and retention could be solved by increasing wages.

“Rather than developing programs which allow more teenagers behind the wheel of 80,000-pound trucks, the federal government, in collaboration with industry stakeholders, should be taking steps to reverse the incessantly high driver turnover rate, which has varied between 71 and 102% among large truckload carriers over the last several years,” OOIDA wrote. “This constant churn decreases highway safety as drivers who leave the workforce are immediately replaced with less experienced individuals to keep labor costs as low as possible and avoid improving difficult working conditions.

“Without addressing the underlying circumstances that have caused excessive churn, we anticipate turnover rates will remain precariously high or even increase – no matter the age of the driver.”

The comment period for the pilot program ended Nov. 9. According to the Regulations.gov website, FMCSA received 175 comments.

Military under-21 pilot program

In a separate notice, FMCSA announced that it plans to expand the number of military occupational specialties for a pilot program that allows some under-21 military veterans and reservists to operate in interstate commerce.

The rules of the pilot program originally were limited to those who had training in seven occupational specialties.

  • Army: 88M Motor Transport Operator; 92F Fueler.
  • Marine Corps: 3531 Motor Vehicle Operator.
  • Navy: EO Equipment Operator.
  • Air Force: 2TI Vehicle Operator; 2FO Fueler; 3E2 Pavement and Construction Equipment Operator.

FMCSA’s proposal would create nine additional eligible military occupational specialties.

  • Army: 12B Combat Engineer; 13B Field Artillery; 13P MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket System); 88H Transportation Cargo; 14T Patriot Launching Station Operator.
  • Marine Corps: 3537 after 3531 achieves the rank of Staff Sgt.; 0811 Field Artillery Cannoneer; 1371 Combat Engineer; 1345 Engineer Equipment Operator.

In comments submitted on Nov. 9, OOIDA said it is proud to have about 50,000 military veterans among its members and that the agency must ensure that the additional military occupational specialties provide adequate heavy-vehicle training.

“We also encourage FMCSA to fully carry out and complete the under-21 military pilot program before initiating any other program analyzing the performance of younger commercial motor vehicle drivers,” OOIDA wrote. “Unlike the military pilot program, there has been no congressional mandate for a broader under-21 study, and FMCSA should not fund a duplicative pilot program just because legislation has been introduced in Congress.” LL

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.