OOIDA on pilot program: Younger drivers crash more

January 13, 2022

Mark Schremmer

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The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association does not mince words in its formal comments regarding FMCSA’s information collection request on an apprenticeship pilot program for under-21 drivers.

“When it comes to highway safety, the data is clear – younger drivers and inexperienced drivers crash more,” OOIDA wrote.

The Association adamantly opposes any efforts to reduce the interstate driving age for truck drivers from 21 to 18. The recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes a provision to create a pilot program for commercial drivers as young as 18. OOIDA has called the three-year pilot program a “watered-down version” of the DRIVE-Safe Act, while noting that the provision does strengthen the trainer requirements and includes a study looking at driver compensation and its effect on safety.

Last week, FMCSA took a procedural step toward launching the program by publishing an information collection request in the Federal Register. The agency also will publish the notice and establishment of the pilot program in the Federal Register on Friday, Jan. 14.

OOIDA filed its comments regarding the information collection request on Wednesday, Jan. 12.

“We believe that licensing under-21 drivers for interstate commerce will lead to more crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving large trucks, especially if the (program) is implemented without establishing comprehensive safety oversight,” the Association wrote. “Before moving forward with the program, we urge the agency to include additional data collection metrics that will enhance quality of the information gathered during the pilot program and will help ensure that it accurately determines if under-21 drivers can perform safely throughout the country.”

OOIDA said it wants more information on how the agency will make its decision on whether or not to extend the program beyond three years.

“What, if any, quantitative safety metrics will be part of the final analysis? If crashes and fatalities occur during the program, will those be made public? OOIDA believes that the examination of crashes is the most reliable method to evaluate safety performance.”

FMCSA labeled the information collection request an “emergency” and gave stakeholders only five days to comment.

“The emergency approval request for the information collection request indicates that FMCSA wants to launch the pilot program fairly quickly,” the Association wrote. “OOIDA cautions the agency against letting under-21 drivers operate in interstate commerce without establishing necessary safeguards and improving the proposed data collection/analysis methods. FMCSA should take the highest level of care to prepare, monitor and review this pilot program, which seeks to challenge decades of safety research.”

Notice and establishment of pilot program

FMCSA’s notice on the establishment of the pilot program is scheduled to publish Jan. 14. The agency said a comment period isn’t necessary because of the similarities to a September 2020 notice regarding under-21 drivers.

“Because of similarity between the pilot program proposed in September 2020 and the requirements for the pilot program … FMCSA has determined that the September 2020 notice can satisfy the notice and comment requirement,” the agency wrote.

The original notice received 202 comments, according to the Regulations.gov website.

OOIDA’s comments asked regulators to not allow mega fleets to take advantage of young drivers.

“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.” LL

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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.