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A Sign of the Times? Congress proposes program to allow 18- to 20-year-old interstate drivers

A Sign of the Times? Congress proposes program to allow 18- to 20-year-old interstate drivers
Since at least 2000, the cry of motor carriers to do away with the rule that restricts commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders between 18 and 20 years of age to intrastate routes only has been ongoing.

Allow us, please, a trucking interpretation of Petula Clark’s 1966 “Sign of the Times.”

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“It’s a sign of the times

That your love (the need for more drivers) for me (motor carriers) is getting so much stronger

It’s a sign of the times

And I know that I won’t have to wait much longer (introduction of the DRIVE Safe Act).”

Since at least 2000, the cry of motor carriers to do away with the rule that restricts commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders between 18 and 20 years of age to intrastate routes only has been ongoing.

On October 2, 2000, the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) petitioned the newly created Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to conduct a younger driver pilot program. Motor carriers, truck driver training schools, a trade association, and an insurance company joined in the petition asking FMCSA to authorize a pilot program to determine if commercial motor vehicle drivers under age 21 could operate commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) safely in interstate commerce.

On June 9, 2003, FMCSA denied the TCA petition stating that “the agency does not have sufficient information at this time to make a determination that the safety measures in the pilot program are designed to achieve a level of safety equivalent to, or greater than, the level of safety provided by complying with the minimum 21-year age requirement to operate a CMV (in interstate commerce).”

The discussion about allowing under-21 CDL holders to drive interstate routes continued, with the most recent advancement in 2016 when the FMCSA announced a pilot program to allow military CDL holders under 21 to operate a CMV in interstate commerce when they left military service.

When that failed to generate much interest, the FMCSA in late 2020 proposed a second pilot to include non-military drivers 18 to 20 years old.

The second pilot ran head-on into the presidential election cycle, and the Biden administration has likely chosen to scrap it, sources told Truckload Authority.

Now comes the bipartisan Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy (DRIVE-Safe) Act, introduced in March by Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) and Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT). Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Angus King (I-ME), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Jerry Moran (R-KS), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) joined as original co-sponsors of the bill, which would require U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to promulgate regulations relating to (CMV) drivers under the age of 21.

“Today, 18-year-olds can drive more than 200 miles from New Albany, Indiana, to Gary and back, but they aren’t allowed to drive 2 miles from New Albany to Louisville, Kentucky,” said Young. “The DRIVE-Safe Act will eliminate this ridiculous regulation, and in doing so, address the driver shortage while providing new career opportunities for young Hoosiers.”

The apprenticeship program established by the DRIVE-Safe Act would require young drivers to complete at least 400 hours of on-duty time and 240 hours of driving time with an experienced driver in the cab with them.

All trucks used for training in the program must be equipped with safety technology including active braking collision mitigation systems, a video event capture system, and a speed governor set at 65 miles per hour or below.

Garner Trucking President and American Trucking Association’s Chair Sherri Garner Brumbaugh is pleased with the bipartisan support, noting that senators and members of the House have said they are in favor of the bill.

“They recognize in their districts that there is a truck driver shortage, and this could potentially be an opportunity to help trucking companies bring in the next generation,” said Brumbaugh, who praised the increased training regulations set for in the bill. “This would fill a terrible void because we need almost 70,000 more drivers than we have today, and that number is only going to increase because of our aging workforce.”

National Association of Publicly Funded Truck Driving Schools (NAPFTDS) Executive Director Martin Garsee said his organization supports or is in favor of the legislation.

“We totally agree with the parameters of the electronics that are required, the length of training,” said Martin.

NAPFTDS members are also seeking candidates who are compatible with the job.

“Compatibility is a good word because we have 50-year-olds who don’t need to be driving a truck,” he added.

Does Brumbaugh feel 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds can drive interstate commerce safely so as long as they are properly trained?

“Absolutely,” she said.

Garner Trucking has no 18- to 20-year-old CDL holders, and a primary reason is the size of Ohio.

“We’re located in Findlay, Ohio, which is Northwest Ohio,” explained Brumbaugh. “I can hire an 18-year-old to go to Cincinnati and be compliant. That’s about 250 miles intrastate, but I can’t send them to Detroit, Michigan, which is less than 100 miles away. It just makes no sense. It’s not a good regulation, so it needs to change.”

Garsee echoed Brumbaugh’s feelings.

“I think it’s one of the big things in trucking that we have to address,” he said. “We’ve been talking about the shortage for many, many years. The average age of the drivers is not getting younger, even though we’re training thousands of drivers, the average age needle is not moving downward substantially.”

Then there’s that age old adage that high school graduates know they can’t become over-the-road drivers until they are 21 years old.

As Garsee noted, they take a job, are quickly trained and entrenched in a new career while truck driver seats sit empty.

“We need to have that opportunity for those people,” said Garsee, “so they can make a career out of driving a truck. We have to capture that younger person.”

So here we are, 21 years after TCA first petitioned the FMCSA to do something to allow 18- to 20-year-old men and women to drive interstate routes. TCA also currently supports the new legislation.

Could Congress’ intervention into the driver debate be a badly-needed “sign of the times?”

Hopefully, it is.

Lyndon Finney’s publishing career spans over 55 years beginning with a reporter position with the Southwest Times Record in Fort Smith, Arkansas, in 1965. Since then he’s been a newspaper editor at the Southwest Times Record, served five years as assistant managing editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock and from November 2004 through December 2019 served as editor of The Trucker. Between newspaper jobs he spent 14 years as director of communications at Baptist Health, Arkansas’ largest healthcare system. In addition to his publishing career he served for 46 years as organist at Little Rock’s largest Baptist church.
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