The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) just proposed a pilot program to allow persons aged 18 through 20 to operate commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) in interstate commerce. Some view this pilot project as a threat to highway safety as younger drivers simply have less driving experience. Those in favor of allowing younger drivers argue that driver training programs would address safety concerns and provide an additional source of applicants to address the driver shortage. No matter your opinion on the issue, FMCSA would like to hear from you. Public comments on the proposal are due by Nov. 9, 2020.

Federal law currently allows applicants 18 years or older to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL) but restricts their CMV driving to operations in intrastate commerce. Only CDL holders at least 21 years old can drive a CMV across state lines. By comparison, forty-eight states and the District of Columbia allow 18- to 20-year old CDL holders to operate CMVs inside state boundaries, while Alaska allows 19- and 20- year olds to drive trucks within the state.

The current interstate commerce restriction has created some anomalies in trucking. For instance, an 18-year old CDL holder can legally drive a commercial truck all the way across a state as big as Texas, but can’t drive a truck from Kansas City, Missouri, to Kansas City, Kansas, just on the other side of the Missouri River. On the other hand, because much of the freight hauled within a state is “interstate freight” due to its origin and/or destination, legal and liability questions have arisen about under-21 drivers hauling this freight.

One exception to the interstate commerce operations limit of drivers 21 or older is an ongoing FMCSA pilot project aimed at 18-20 year olds holding the military equivalent of a CDL. Results of the military pilot project will be reported not later than one year after it concludes.

FMCSA requests comments on the following pilot program outline:

Participant categories.  FMCSA proposes two categories of younger driver participants. One would consist of 18- to 20-year old CDL holders operating under a motor carrier apprenticeship program. Drivers in this category would have consecutive 120-hour and 280-hour probationary periods, with defined competencies to be achieved under carrier supervision.

The second category would include 19- and 20-year old CDL holders who have already operated in intrastate commerce for a minimum of one year and 25,000 miles. This category of younger drivers would not have any probationary periods.

Both categories of drivers would need to meet strict safety standards – basically, no violations or license suspensions (parking tickets excluded), to qualify and would be subject to safety performance standards to stay in the pilot program.

Training.  All younger drivers would need to take CDL training that meets FMCSA’s Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT) rule standards. While the ELDT rule is final, FMCSA has delayed mandatory implementation to allow states time for adjustment. Currently, some training providers do meet the ELDT requirements.

Vehicle technology.  All CMVs used by pilot program participants must be equipped with active-braking collision mitigation systems; forward-facing video event recorders; automatic or automatic-manual transmissions; and speed limiters set to 65 mph. FMCSA would prioritize for participation motor carriers whose CMVs have additional safety technologies.

Motor carrier qualification.  Motor carriers would need a good safety record to participate in the pilot program and employ these younger drivers in interstate commerce. This requirement would include no open enforcement actions and a crash rate, driver out of service (OOS) and vehicle OOS rate not above the national average, among other specifics.

Control group drivers.  FMCSA would seek CDL holders, aged 21 to 24, with similar safety records and driving experience, as a control group for the study. Safety and compliance data collected from the control group would be compared to data from the two categories of younger drivers.

For statistical significance, the pilot program would require about 200 drivers between 18- and 20- years old. As any participant reaches age 21, a replacement driver would be added. The pilot would run a maximum of three years, followed by a report to Congress.