To say there is pushback against the idea of creating another pilot program to allow drivers under 21 to operate commercial trucks is putting it mildly.

Though perhaps most produce industry associations and commercial trucking concerns have been in favor of trying most anything to ease the often-cited driver shortage — including this type of pilot program for younger drivers — other voices will have none of it.

Public comments on the May 15 proposal by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration are due July 15, and nearly 200 comments have been received in the first week.

First, here is a summary of the proposal:

Drivers 18, 19 and 20 years old may currently operate commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) in intrastate commerce. On July 6, 2018, FMCSA published a Federal Register notice announcing the details of the Commercial Driver Pilot Program, that allows certain 18- to 20-year-olds with military training to operate CMVs in interstate commerce. This document requests comments on a possible second pilot program to allow non-military drivers aged 18, 19, and 20 to operate CMVs in interstate commerce. FMCSA requests comments on the training, qualifications, driving limitations, and vehicle safety systems that FMCSA should consider in developing options or approaches for a second pilot program for younger drivers.

So the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration wants input on possible parameters for second under 21 pilot program to expand eligibility beyond those with military experience.

The concept has some history. A previous petition in October 2000 by the Truckload Carriers Association asked FMCSA to conduct a younger driver pilot program, stating that the pilot would address the shortage of commercial motor vehicle drivers in the trucking industry. Petitioners also asserted that recruiting young persons as truck drivers would be easier if they could be approached immediately after graduation from high school.

The pilot program proposed back in 2000 would have involved a minimum of 48 weeks of intensive classroom and driving instruction and supervision that was designed to lead to full-time employment as an interstate CMV driver. Younger drivers would have been required to pass the performance standards of the entire 48-week program and reach the age of 19 to begin solo driving. 

For that pilot program proposed in 2000, the FMCSA received more than 1,600 comments, with 90% opposed, “most on the basis that individuals under the age of 21 lacked the maturity and judgment to operate a CMV.”

In June 2003, the agency 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.”

Fast forward to 2019 In the Federal Register notice asking for comments, the FMCSA said:

On February 27, 2019, companion bills were introduced in the U.S. House of representatives and the U.S. Senate called the “Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy Act” (DRIVE-Safe Act) (H.R. 5358). The DRIVE-Safe Act proposes to lower the age requirement for interstate drivers to 18 as long as drivers under the age of 21 are participating in an apprenticeship program that includes separate 120-hour and 280-hour probationary periods, during which younger drivers would operate CMVs under the supervision of an experienced driver and must achieve specific performance benchmarks before advancing. Younger drivers would also drive vehicles equipped with active braking collision mitigation systems, forward-facing video event capture, and speed limiters set to 65 miles per hour.

FMCSA requests responses to the following questions to help the Agency determine whether it should propose a younger driver pilot program and the parameters of such a program. Instructions for filing comments to the public docket are included earlier in this notice.

The public is encouraged to respond to the questions listed below; however, additional comments are also welcome.

1. What data are currently available on the safety performance (e.g., crash involvement, etc.) of 18-20-year-old drivers operating CMVs in intrastate commerce?

2. Are there concerns about obtaining insurance coverage for drivers under 21 who operate CMVs in intrastate commerce, and would these challenges be greater for interstate operations?

TK: There are other questions where the FMCSA asked for specific comments, but most comments received so far are more emotion and less reason and fact. I think it would be easy for many Americans to support the pilot program for particularly responsible 19-year-olds they may know. But judging by the comments so far — and the history of this effort — most Americans will balk at the notion of putting the very young behind the wheel of long-haul commercial trucks. What do you think?

Here are a few comments so far:

  • NO do not put 18 year old’s on the highways.
  • I have several drivers in their early 20’s and it is a challenge. They just don’t have the maturity they need to be operating a semi. I would hate to see an 18 year old on the highways. The schools that are turning out these drivers need better regulations. They do not teach them anything other then how to hold the steering wheel, most can;t even back up a truck and trailer.
  • I think this is just a way for the already out of control DANGEROUS mega carriers that the fmcsa loves to bend over to, to get cheap UNSKILLED IMPROPERLY TRAINED DRIVERS FOR CHEAP.
  • I don’t think anyone under 21 should operate a CMV. There’s too many people who have CDLs that should not have them. There is a lot of responsibility that goes with driving a CMV and I don’t believe most 21 year olds are mature enough for the responsibility let alone younger people.
  • This is the worst idea to come from the fmcsa yet. Every new rule that is implemented keeps making things worse for the trucking industry. Keep the rules that are already in place. An 18 year old simply doesn’t have the level of maturity and decision making skills necessary for the job.
  • I am in favor of allowing 18 - 20 year old’s to haul interstate loads. We can require and provide training and appropriate mentoring and supervision. The most troubling part of the current law for me is that 18 - 20 year old’s can’t even pickup a load from our plant in Green Bay and bring it to a drop lot in Green Bay 2 miles away because the load ultimately is going interstate. They are allowed to haul an intrastate load in the same manner but not an intrastate load. This change in itself would be very beneficial to us and also to the younger drivers as a way to gain experience and make very good money in the process.
  • I think this would be fine to allow drivers under 21 for interstate service, especially since we are so short on drivers; most teen drivers are better and more alert than some older drivers on the road today.
  • I started driving intrastate IL when I was 18 for my family company. Had I not been able to drive at 18, I likely would have chosen a different industry other than trucking. Because I was able to drive at 18, I have worked hard at building my family’s company from a 10 truck fleet to 140 truck fleet. It makes ZERO sense that an 18 year old in IL can drive 410 miles from Rockford to Round Knob IL, but can’t go from Rockford IL to Beloit WI. CHANGE THIS STUPID LAW and make it so an 18 year old can drive cross country.


Submitted by [email protected] on Wed, 05/22/2019 - 19:52

I’m opposed. People in their teens and early 20s simply do not have the experiences that would give them a sound basis for decision-making. No problem with them driving under close supervision, i.e. someone driving with them (ideally in vehicles with dual controls). Physically they are certainly in what may be the best shape of their lives. However, years of managing them and simply listening and observing, have convinced me that their maturity is sporadic, and they simply do not make good decisions, especially when those are required quickly. They can’t be “trained” for that in school; it takes experience, driving with someone or, unfortunately, driving intrastate. Smart and able -probably most are . . .but also quick to seek fun, get too little rest, believing they are invincible and superior because of their youth. I drive an interstate loaded with trucks and I sure don’t want someone who believes in their own superiority - as most do - on the road.