New Federal Program Lowers Minimum Truck Driver Age
February 01, 2022
By Blair Robbins
On January 14, 2022, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration took steps toward rolling out the apprenticeship program for truck drivers under age 21.
As part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a new program allows up to 3,000 individuals at a time to work toward a commercial driver’s license, which is needed for interstate transportation. Previously, drivers of commercial motor vehicles engaged in interstate commerce were required to be at least 21 years of age.
In response to concerns regarding the risk of inexperienced younger drivers behind the wheel, the program has an expansive list a heightened safety requirements. During a probationary period, the employing motor carrier must ensure that the apprentice drives a vehicle with safety features such as an active braking collision mitigating system, a forward-facing video event capture system, and have a governed speed of 65 miles per hour. The carrier must also maintain minimum carrier safety records and provide an experienced driver (age 26 and over) to ride along during the probationary periods.
It is yet to be seen what impact this apprenticeship program will have on the driver shortage currently plaguing the transportation industry. Factors such as added labor cost associated with paying wages to both the apprentice and experienced driver riding along, potential increased liability insurance premiums, and the cost of program compliance and safety equipment will all weigh into the decision-making process when carriers assess the program’s costs/benefits. With driver retention already a significant challenge for many carriers, program participants will also need to consider driver retention upon completion of the apprenticeship program.
One potential advantage of the program is the ability to open the industry to new recruits at an age consistent with high school graduation, making the transportation industry more competitive for applicants at the time they can enter the labor force.
The transportation industry had long been faced with challenges associated with labor shortages, driver retention, safety, and an aging driver population. This new apprenticeship program creates a change in dynamic that is appealing to many in the industry, despite calls by some that the risk of adding inexperienced drivers outweighs the benefits.