The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is asking for comments on a proposed pilot program to allow drivers 18 to 20 years of age to drive trucks in interstate commerce under strict conditions. The request for comments grew out of a petition by the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) attempting to address difficulties reported by its members in recruiting qualified commercial vehicle drivers. Under current U.S. federal regulations, such drivers must be at least 21 years of age. The TCA represents truckload carriers operating within North America who employ both company drivers and owner-operators. Several member companies of the TCA have agreed to participate in the pilot program if it is approved. Pilot programs such as this are authorized by the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21). It provides the U.S. Secretary of Transportation authority to grant exemptions from the Federal Motor Carrier Regulations (FMCSRs) so that alternatives to regulations can be evaluated. Under the terms of the proposal, each applicant driver would be subject to a minimum of 48 weeks of intensive classroom training, driving instruction, and supervision designed to lead the trainee to full-time employment as an interstate commercial driver. This training would include mandatory attendance at an approved truck driver training school for a minimum of 22 weeks and 8 weeks of training in a motor carrier’s “driver finishing” program.
“Driver finishing” would be a course of instruction and on-the-job training offered by motor carriers to further develop the younger driver’s basic skills, as well as develop greater maturity and judgment, under the daily direction and guidance of an experienced driver trainer. This, in turn, would be followed by 18 weeks of team driving with an experienced driver. Younger drivers would be required to pass the performance standards of the entire 48-week program and reach the age of 19 before beginning solo driving.
Under the proposal, a consortium of participating motor carriers and schools would train approximately 1,000 drivers who are currently under the federal age requirement of 21. TCA expects that up to 20 carriers and about 10 schools would participate in the pilot program.
If approved, the FMCSA would closely monitor drivers, driver training schools, and motor carriers participating in the pilot program to ensure they comply with all program requirements and FMCSRs. Participants found not to be in compliance will be immediately removed from the program and be subject to appropriate administrative and civil sanctions.
The FMCSA is interested in public comment on whether such a pilot program could ensure a level of safety that is equal to or greater than the level of safety achieved by CMV drivers 21 years of age or older who are not subject to specialized selection, training, and monitoring beyond that otherwise required by the commercial driver license.