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Young truck driver pilot program runs into controversy

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Photo Credit: TTstudio

A career spent behind the wheel of a heavy-duty semi can be fun, fulfilling, and financially rewarding. However, the job is not without its dangers. Even a minor mistake can pose serious risks to everyone else on the road. Are some potential truck drivers too young to entrust with these mighty machines?

The idea is under scrutiny as a new pilot program launches. Aimed at recruiting truck drivers between 18 and 21 years old, some say the program will help counteract the industry’s declining workforce, while others argue these younger drivers don’t have the maturity necessary to stay safe.

The FMCSA program explained

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is an agency within the US Department of Transportation charged with regulating the trucking industry and improving overall trucking safety. Last year, they began a pilot program for interstate truck drivers between the ages of 18 and 21.

The program is divided into two groups of young people. The first group joins a three-year program run directly by the FMCSA. Those chosen for this group were required to have experience operating a commercial motor vehicle for at least one year and 25,000 miles. The second group is hired directly by trucking organizations. Both groups are first enrolled in a 280-hour probationary period that includes 120 driving hours.

Additionally, all of the selected drivers had no disqualifications, suspensions, or license revocations within the past two years. They also were only allowed into the program if they had no convictions related to reckless driving or driving under the influence. Once admitted to the program, they can be removed if they commit any serious traffic violation or are issued an out-of-service order.

Finally, each driver is closely monitored. Required safety equipment for each truck includes active braking collision-mitigation systems, forward-facing cameras, speed limiters set to 65 mph, and more. Drivers are also forbidden from hauling passengers and hazardous materials.

Do young truck drivers pose an increased risk on the road?

For several decades, the trucking industry has faced a declining workforce. The number of drivers who retire far outpaces the number of new drivers joining the industry.

The FMCSA program is not the first attempt to solve the ongoing workplace shortage. The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act was passed by Congress in 2015 and then implemented in 2018. It allows 18-to-20-year-olds to drive trucks for interstate commerce if they possess the US military equivalent of a commercial driver’s license. The program is generally regarded as a success, but with a limited recruitment pool.

Another related bill is the Drive SAFE Act. It creates an apprenticeship program similar in many ways to the FMCSA plan. Currently, the bill is waiting for a vote in Congress. However, it might be in trouble, if the reaction to the FMCSA program offers any type of preview.

Criticism for the FMCSA program has been voiced from the Teamsters union, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), and several public safety advocates. They argue younger drivers have an increased risk of being exploited with low wages and harsh working conditions. Instead of fostering long-term careers, opponents of the FMCSA program say it will lead to increased driver turnover.

The road forward for young truck drivers

“Both those for and against the FMCSA program agree that the trucking industry needs to increase its appeal to younger drivers,” said Attorney Richard Grungo or Grungo Colarulo. “However, not everyone within the industry agrees on what laws and regulations will work best for all involved. Ultimately, the system devised must not only protect everyone on the road from accidental injury, but it must also protect young drivers from exploitative working conditions and unfair wages.”

Truck driving offers an exciting career for younger men and women, but the introduction of this workforce will require new laws to help ensure the industry moves forward safely and fairly for all involved.

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