Supply chain issues have prompted the federal government to test an unprecedented solution: teen truck driver apprenticeships.
Under existing regulations, truckers who drive across state lines have to be at least 21 years old. But the apprenticeship program – which is a requirement from Congress, thanks to the new infrastructure bill, the Associated Press reports – will include 18-to-20-year-old truckers, as well. Its goal is to untangle the supply chain backlog that is currently confounding companies big and small.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on Thursday laid out the pilot program in a proposed regulation. Teens who have DUI violations or traffic tickets for causing accidents would be excluded from the program.
Are Teen Truck Drivers a Safety Risk?
Safety advocates have objected to the apprenticeship program. They say data shows drivers in that age range get into more crashes than older drivers. And they point out that trucks weighing up to 80,000 pounds are not the best vehicles for young drivers to be learning on.
“This is no surprise to any American who drives a vehicle,” Peter Kurdock, general counsel for Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety, told the AP about the crash data.
Kurdock said his organization has been fighting the trucking industry on this issue for years. The supply chain issues are just a convenient pretext to push through this change, he said. And he worries the industry will use the apprenticeship program to get teenage truckers driving from state to state across the country.
Truckers Counter That Teens Are Already Driving Semis
But truck drivers have an answer for those concerns. Nick Geale, vice president of workforce safety for the American Trucking Associations, a big industry trade group, said teens are already behind the wheels of semis in 49 states and Washington, D.C. They just haven’t been crossing state lines.
“This program creates a rigorous safety training program,” Geale told the AP. “[It] requir[es] an additional 400 hours of advanced safety training, in which participants are evaluated against specific performance benchmarks.” He added that the program will solve the trucker shortage holding up freight supply lines.
Through the program, truck drivers under 21 can cross state lines during 120-hour and 280-hour probationary stretches as long as an experienced driver is with them. They have to limit their speeds to 65 mph. And the trucks they drive must have an electronic braking crash mitigation system and a forward-facing video camera.
After their probationary periods are over, they can drive by themselves. But the apprenticeship program’s ceiling is 3,000 apprentices. And companies are required to monitor their performance.
The apprenticeship program is slated to last for three years. After that, Congress would have to pass a new law extending it if it is to continue.