The new program to lower truck driver age restrictions is being considered by the FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration). It is an attempt by the federal government to alleviate some interstate supply chain concerns by lowering truck driver age.
The federal government is moving through with a test program that will allow adolescents to drive heavy rigs from state to state.
The Current Truck Driver Age Limits
Truckers must currently be at least 21 years old to cross state lines, but an apprenticeship program mandated by Congress to help alleviate supply chain backlogs would lower the truck driver age limit by allowing 18-to-20-year-old truckers to travel outside their home states.
The pilot program, which was revealed Thursday in a proposed regulation from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, would screen the teens, banning any who had previously been convicted of driving while intoxicated or received traffic citations for causing a collision.
However, safety experts argue that the initiative contradicts research showing that younger drivers are more likely to be involved in accidents than older drivers. Many safety experts argue that allowing young drivers to be in charge of semi-trucks that can weigh up to 80,000 pounds and cause catastrophic damage when they collide with lighter cars is foolish.
The United States Congress mandated the apprenticeship pilot program as part of the infrastructure bill passed into law on Nov. 15, 2021. It mandates that the FMCSA, which is part of the Department of Transportation, begin the program within 60 days.
The American Trucking Association, a major industry trade group, supports the bill as a solution to address the current driver shortage in the U.S. As demand for moving freight reaches unprecedented highs, the association believes that the country is over 80,000 drivers short of what the industry requires.
What Is the New Truck Driver Age Restrictions?
In the new rule, younger drivers, under the age of 21 can cross state lines during their 120-hour and 280-hour probationary periods as provided as an experienced driver is in the passenger seat under the apprenticeship. Trucks participating in the initiative must have an electronic braking crash mitigation system, as well as a forward-facing video camera and not exceed a top speed of 65 mph.
These probationary drivers can drive on their own after probation, but employers must monitor their performance until they reach the age of 21. At any given moment, no more than 3,000 apprentices can be enrolled in the program simultaneously.
According to the Transportation Department, the FMCSA must recruit carriers with exceptional safety records to invite them to participate in this program of the new truck driver age restrictions.
The new probationary cross-state driving privileges initiative for drivers under 21 years of age will last up to three years, and the motor carrier agency will have to submit a report to Congress examining teen drivers’ safety records and recommending whether they are as safe as drivers 21 and older. With the results of the pilot program, and new legislation, Congress might expand the program.
The test is part of a larger set of actions taken by the Biden administration to address the trucker shortage and enhance truck driver working conditions.
According to Nick Geale, vice president of workforce safety for the trucking groups, drivers under the age of 21 can currently drive semis in 49 states and Washington, D.C., but they can’t pick up a load just across a state boundary.
“This program establishes a rigorous safety training program that requires an extra 400 hours of advanced safety training, during which participants are evaluated against particular performance goals,” Geale explained. According to him, the scheme will ensure that the industry has enough drivers to handle increasing freight demand.
Nonetheless, according to federal data, younger drivers have far higher crash rates than older drivers, according to Peter Kurdock, general counsel for Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety. “Any American who drives a car should not be surprised,” he said. Many safety experts believe the new program will cause highways to be more dangerous and the number of Truck Accidents will likely go up as a result, especially if congress passes permanent legislation to allow teenage truck drivers to cross state lines.
He believes that putting them behind the wheel of trucks that can weigh up to 40 tons when fully loaded increases the risk of mass casualty accidents.
Kurdock claimed that the trucking business has been clamoring for younger drivers for years, and that supply chain difficulties were utilized to get the issue included in the infrastructure package. He is concerned that the industry will utilize biased statistics from the initiative to promote juvenile truckers across the country. The ultimate result may be increased truck accidents and increased truck accident fatalities.
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