Federal Government Launches Program for Teenage Big Rig Drivers

by TK Sanders
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The Federal Government announced plans to allow teenaged big rig truck drivers to cross state lines. Right now, truck drivers must be 21-years-old to move cargo between state lines in a commercial truck. Congress wants to enact an apprenticeship program that lets 18 to 20-year-olds drive outside of their home states. The goal is to entice more young workers into the industry and to ease supply chain woes.

Who supports the program and who opposes it

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will screen the teens for driving violations. Impairment violations or at-fault crashes supposedly make the teen ineligible for the program, but the rules are vague. Safety experts are already balking at the program, which was slipped into the Nov. 15 infrastructure bill last year. These experts and advocates do not want teens responsible for 80,000 pounds of cargo.

The American Trucking Associations supports the measure. As demand for freight shipping and logistics hits record highs each and every day, the industry desperately needs new blood to satisfy the demand. The ATA and similar trade groups estimate a current trucker shortage around 80,000 drivers, based on need alone.

The apprenticeship does come with a few extra rules for safety. Drivers can only cross state lines during probationary periods and only when an experienced driver accompanies them in the front seat. Trucks must also have electronic braking crash mitigation and a forward facing camera. Drivers cannot exceed 65 mph during the program. The program is also capped at 3,000 participants.

After a 280-hour probationary period, underage drivers can cross state lines on their own. But companies must monitor the drivers closely until they turn 21. Congress intends to run the program for three years, at which point the trucking companies will present their data and findings. Most likely, safety records between the teens and their older counterparts will determine the program’s future.

Spokespeople for Both the Truck Drivers and Safety Commissions Speak Out

Nick Geale, vice president of workforce safety for the trucking associations, issued a statement about the program. He said that 49 states and Washington, D.C., already allow drivers under 21 to drive semis. They just can’t pick up a load across a state line.

“This program creates a rigorous safety training program. It requires an additional 400 hours of advanced safety training. Participants are evaluated against specific performance benchmarks,” Geale said. The program will help the industry meet growing freight demands, Geale also said.

Peter Kurdock, general counsel for Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety, said the data is clear. Younger drivers crash more than older ones, period.

Putting young drivers behind the wheel of massive trucks increases the chance mass casualty crashes, Kurdock said.

He also added that this is not the first time the industry has pushed for younger drivers. In fact, they’ve been doing it for years, and for years have been met with the same legitimate safety concerns.

The apprenticeship program formally rolled out over the weekend.

Outsider.com