Transportation industry leaders are cheering the Trump Administration’s decision today to move ahead with a proposed pilot program to allow licensed commercial drivers between the ages of 18 and 20 to operate commercial vehicles across state lines.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) today announced that it is proposing and seeking public comments on that program, which it first unveiled in 2019.
The move follows a 2018 decision by FMCSA that allows certain 18 to 20-year-olds with military training to operate commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) in interstate commerce, saying that “Military Commercial Driver Pilot Program” could help alleviate a truck driver shortage affecting carriers nationwide.
Under its new plan, FMCSA would allow drivers to participate if they fall within two categories: 1) 18 to 20-year-old commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders who operate CMVs 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, or 2) 19 and 20-year-old commercial drivers who have operated CMVs in intrastate commerce for a minimum of one year and 25,000 miles.
FMCSA leaders noted that 49 states and the District of Columbia already allow 18 to 20-year-old CDL holders to operate CMVs in intrastate commerce—meaning under-21 drivers may currently drive within state borders.
Saying the new plan is designed to ensure safety, FMCSA also said that the study group drivers would not be allowed to operate vehicles hauling passengers or hazardous materials or to drive 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 Deputy Administrator Wiley Deck said in a 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.”
In reaction, leaders at the American Trucking Associations, a national trade association for the trucking industry, applauded the proposed rule. “This is a significant step toward improving safety on our nation’s roads, setting a standard for these drivers that is well beyond what 49 states currently require,” ATA President and CEO Chris Spear said in a release. “This is an amazing block of talent with unlimited potential. If our freedom can be defended from tyranny around the world by our men in women in uniform, many well below the age of 21, then it’s quite clear that we can train that same group how to safely and responsibly cross state lines in a commercial vehicle.”
In a similar statement, trade group the International Foodservice Distributors Association (IFDA) said the move would provide a path to bring needed younger drivers safely into the industry as aging drivers retire and growing online purchasing increases long-term freight demand. “The trucking industry is a good paying career choice for America’s emerging workforce,” IFDA said in a release. “Training programs like this are critical game changers for not only developing a highly skilled workforce but also creating pathways to financial stability— without the need to incur college debt.”