US to allow teens to become truck drivers to combat supply chain issues
The United States is preparing to launch a pilot program for people under 21 to become truck drivers in order to combat the effects of supply chain backlogs, allowing some teenagers to get behind the wheel of big rigs. The program – first detailed in a series of initiatives put forth by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) last week – would allow 18, 19 and 20-year-olds to drive the large vehicles across state lines. Since last year, the US has dealt with empty shelves at stores across the country due to issues including pileups at ports and a lack of truck drivers.
To ensure there are enough trucks on the road, the US Department of Transportation and US Department of Labor are expanding the pool of drivers through the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot program. Creation of the program was required by Congress as part of the £1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill enacted last November, according to the Associated Press. FMCSA is required to start the program within 60 days of it becoming law.
The program will screen young drivers to ensure they meet “strict safety standards” to avoid crashes, traffic tickets or other driving violations. FMCSA will accept up to 3,000 apprentices to the program at one time.
To further ensure safety, apprentice drivers will not be permitted to transport passengers, hazardous materials or drive double- or triple-trailer combinations. Nor will they be allowed to dive cargo tank vehicles.
Any drivers who have had more than one license (except for a military license); had their license suspended, revoked, or cancelled; been convicted of breaking motor vehicle traffic control laws (except parking violations); have been convicted of driving under the influence; and used a vehicle to commit a felony or left the scene of a crash will not be permitted into the program. While in the program, the young drivers will be permitted to drive across state lines during 120-hour and 280-hour probationary periods with an experienced driver in the passenger seat. They will not be allowed to exceed speed limits of 65 mph.
The apprentices will be monitored with a forward-facing video camera and will have an electronic braking crash mitigation system in the trucks used.
After the probationary periods, the apprentices will be allowed to drive on their own. However, their performance will still be monitored until they are 21 years old. The program will last up to three years and the motor carrier agency is required to provide a report to Congress on the safety record of the drivers in the program and recommend whether the young drivers are as safe as those older than 21.
Despite the strict measures, some experts have raised concerns about the program, pointing to data indicating that younger drivers have higher crash rates. “This is no surprise to any American who drives a vehicle,” said Peter Kurdock, general counsel for Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety. Kurdock warned that allowing teenagers to drive trucks that can weigh up to 40 tons when fully loaded will increase the potential for mass-casualty crashes and accused the trucking industry of taking advantage of the infrastructure bill to get younger drivers it has wanted for years.
1, 2021.AFP via Getty Images
The program is supported by the American Trucking Associations, which has estimated that the US is more than 80,000 drivers short of the number necessary to meet current supply chain needs. Nick Gaele, ATA vice president of workforce safety, touted the program, telling the Associated Press that it will ensure the industry can meet demand. “This program creates a rigorous safety training program, requiring an additional 400 hours of advanced safety training, in which participants are evaluated against specific performance benchmarks,” he said.
Other initiatives announced by FMCSA last week will expand registered apprenticeship programs, create a Women of Trucking Advisory Board, launch studies to investigate issues of truck driver pay, and improve the Commercial Drivers Licensing process.
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