• Tue. Nov 29th, 2022

New rule will allow 18-year-olds to drive tractor-trailers

The new scheme comes online as the industry complains about driver shortages, which have worsened during the coronavirus pandemic. Last October, the head of the American Trucking Associations said the industry needed about 80,000 more drivers. Security advocates, however, oppose the program, to say it puts potentially dangerous and inexperienced drivers behind the controls of some of the biggest and heaviest vehicles on the road.

Currently, 49 states and Washington DC grant commercial driver’s licenses to people under the age of 21, Nick Geale, ATA’s vice president of labor policy, said in a statement. These young drivers can drive tractor-trailers in big states like California and Texas, he noted, but they simply can’t cross state lines. This new program will only take some of those drivers and train them so they can cross state lines in their rigs.

Trucking Group CEO Chris Spear said at the time October that this program was needed and would help alleviate some of the driver shortage. The ATA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the newly enacted regulations.

Under current federal regulations, only persons 21 years of age or older of age are allowed to drive tractor-trailers across state lines. The new Safe Driver Apprenticeship pilot program will allow individuals who are at least 18 years old and hold a state-issued commercial driver’s license with a clean record to drive interstate trucks under the direct supervision of an experienced driver.

The program was proposed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in September 2020, but it was not implemented at the time. The Infrastructure Investment and Employment Act, enacted last November, however, required the creation of the program. The program will soon become operational, according to a notice in the Federal Register.

The FMCSA will issue a specific exemption from the normal age restrictions for each young driver admitted to the program. Trucks used in the program will be required to have certain safety technologies, including automatic emergency braking, forward-facing video cameras and an automatically limited top speed of 65 miles per hour. Learner drivers will not be permitted to drive trucks with more than one trailer or trucks carrying hazardous materials.

The experienced driver should be at least 26 years old and have at least five years of experience driving semi-trailers. The supervising driver must also have had two years of incident-free driving – no accidents or tickets – before training the new, younger driver.

The Truck Safety Coalition has publicly opposed the program since it was first proposed, citing the risks posed by teenage drivers.

“We would like to see [Transportation] Secretary [Pete] Buttigieg demonstrates a true commitment to safety and publicly pledges to end the program under his authority as DOT Secretary after the first fatality or serious injury,” said Truck Safety Coalition Executive Director Zach Cahalan.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shared with CNN statistics from a University of Michigan study showing a 500% increase in injury crashes among truck drivers under 21 compared to drivers overall. of truck.

Cathy Chase, president of the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, also opposed the program.

“It makes no sense to put one of the most dangerous driver populations behind the wheel of 80,000-pound rigs,” she said.

Learner drivers could complete the program long before they reach their 21st birthday, she said, and could get behind the wheel of a tractor-trailer without any of the safety equipment required by the program. There are other ways to deal with driver shortages, she said, such as making work more attractive by raising wages and cutting driving hours.

CNN’s Vanessa Yurkevich contributed to this report.