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Under-21 interstate drivers getting serious look by FMCSA

Dave Wickenhauser on Wed, May 15, 2019

Last Updated: Tue, May 14, 2019

After running a pilot program for the last 10 months allowing under-21-year-old drivers with military experience to drive big rigs interstate, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced this week it is seeking public comment on potentially opening up interstate highways to non-military drivers 18 through 20 years old as well.

“Commercial trucks and buses are essential to a thriving national economy, and the Department wants to ensure the public has an opportunity to comment on this important potential change,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao, stated in the announcement.

FMCSA is looking for comments on the training, qualifications, driving limitations, and vehicle safety systems that FMCSA should consider in developing options or approaches for a new pilot program for younger, non-military drivers.

“We want input from the public on efforts that offer the potential to create more jobs in the commercial motor vehicle industry, while maintaining the highest level of safety. We encourage all CMV stakeholders to submit comments on a potential interstate pilot program for younger drivers,” said FMCSA Administrator Raymond P. Martinez.

FMCSA's announcement was applauded by industry leaders, including American Trucking Associations' CEO Chris Spear.

“ATA supports FMCSA’s efforts to expand on its current work examining younger commercial drivers,” he said in an ATA news release.

“Right now, 18, 19, and 20-year-old drivers are driving trucks in the United States. What these pilot programs will do is set out a path for these drivers to fully participate in our industry by allowing them to drive interstate.” “Allowing younger drivers, who are already moving goods intrastate, to drive interstate is a common sense step that has support not just from the trucking industry, but from a broad coalition,” Spear added.

“Between FMCSA’s proposed pilot project and the bipartisan support for the Drive SAFE Act in Congress, we hope we will soon create a path for more young people to fully participate in our industry.”

The announcement becomes official when it is published in the Federal Register today, May 15. It is titled, "Commercial Driver’s Licenses; Pilot Program to Allow Drivers Under 21 to Operate Commercial Motor Vehicles in Interstate Commerce," and will be listed under Docket number FMCSA-2018-0346.

Persons wishing to comment on the proposed pilot program for non-military, under-21 drivers may do so by:

  • Visiting the Federal eRulemaking Portal:, And following the online instructions for submitting comments.
  • Mailing to Docket Management Facility, U.S. Department of Transportation, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE., West Building, Ground Floor, Room W12-140, Washington, DC 20590-0001.
  • Hand Delivering or sending by courier to West Building, Ground Floor, Room W12-140, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE., between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays.
  • Or by faxing to 1-202-493-2251

Submissions must include the agency name and the docket number, and FMCSA states that all comments will be posted at, where they will be available for viewing. Be sure to input the docket number, FMCSA-2018-0346, into the search field.

Background of the proposed new pilot program

Back in October 2000 the Truckload Carriers Association, along with motor carriers, truck driver training schools, trade associations and an insurance company petitioned the FMCSA to conduct a younger-driver pilot program to determine if drivers under 21 years old could safely operate big rigs in interstate commerce.

There were several reasons for this request, primarily for addressing the looming driver shortage problem. Petitioners figured that it would be easier to recruit potential drivers from a pool of recent high school graduates.

Early in 2001 the FMCSA opened the question to public comment. Some 1,600 comments were received – with 90-percent being against under-21 interstate drivers. Commenters cited their belief that under-21 drivers "lacked the maturity and judgment to operate a CMV," according to the FMCSA.

But comments were notable for their lack of data, said the FMCSA, and for not showing any understanding that most states have concluded that under-21 intrastate drivers have not been found to have any record of diminished safety.

Also, very few of the 1,600 comments were from truck drivers or carriers, but most of the comments that were from these groups opposed the pilot program.

In 2003, FMCSA denied this first under-21 proposal.

Then there was a 13-year hiatus until FMCSA published a notice August 2016 asking for comments for a pilot program allowing under-21 military trained drivers to drive interstate. The agency received 67 comments; of which 40 were in favor and 9 opposed. The remaining 18 were from those asking FMCSA to add an exemption to allow under-21 drivers engaged in agricultural transportation to drive across state lines.

In July 2018, the FMCSA published notice of rules and requirements for a pilot program allowing under-21 drivers with military training to drive interstate. The notice included instructions for carriers, covered drivers, a control group of drivers and intrastate-only drivers to participate in the pilot program.

Then in December 2018 the FMCSA published rules establishing minimum entry-level training requirements for under-21 interstate drivers.

In February of this year both houses of the United States Congress passed companion bills enacting the DRIVE-Safe Act proposing to lower the age requirement for interstate drivers with the following conditions:

  • Drivers under the age of 21 are participating in an apprenticeship program that includes separate 120-hour and 280-hour probationary periods
  • 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.

What FMCSA wants to know

The FMCSA is looking for responses to two broad questions:

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?

And 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?

And the FMCSA wishes respondents to address these detailed questions:

  • What is the minimum driving experience that should be required for a driver to be admitted to a pilot?
  • Should there be a requirement for experience driving non-commercial vehicles (e.g., to hold a regular driver’s license for some minimum period of time)?
  • Should there be a requirement for experience driving a CMV in intrastate commerce for some minimum period of time? If so, what should that period be and how should it be measured (e.g., time with a CDL, hours driven, vehicle miles traveled) and why?
  • Is there a minimum amount of time a younger driver should be required to hold a CLP or CDL? If so, how long and why? Are there driver training topics that should be equired for younger drivers beyond those covered in the ELDT final rule? If so, what are they and why?
  • What kind of supervision, and how much, should be required for drivers under 21 in a pilot?
  • Should there be any specific training / qualification requirements for mentors, supervisors or co-drivers? If so, what type of training or qualifications?
  • Should FMCSA require that participating motor carriers establish a formal apprenticeship program according to Department of Labor Standards? If so, why?
  • Should there be time or distance restrictions on younger drivers? If so, what should these be and why?
  • Should younger drivers have more limited hours of service, such as a maximum of 8 hours of driving each day? If so, what limits should be applied and why?
  • Should younger drivers be prohibited from transporting hazardous materials, passengers, and/or operating tank vehicles or oversize/overweight vehicles? Should there be other restrictions?
  • What safety standards should participating motor carriers have to meet? Are the requirements from the Under 21 Military Pilot Program appropriate?
  • What safety standards should participating drivers have to meet? Are the requirements from the Under 21 Military Pilot program appropriate?
  • What action(s) should the Agency consider taking if drivers in this pilot program are convicted of violations while operating in interstate commerce?
  • At what point should FMCSA remove a driver or motor carrier from a pilot program?
  • Should FMCSA include requirements for safety equipment or on-board recording systems in a pilot program for younger CMV drivers? If so, what equipment and why?
  • Are the technologies proposed in the DRIVE-Safe Act appropriate?
  • Should FMCSA include other technologies? If so, what technologies are appropriate?
  • Will insurance companies be willing to cover younger drivers operating CMVs in interstate commerce?
  • What is the surcharge for insuring a younger driver?
  • Will motor carriers be able to afford the insurance coverage for these younger drivers?
  • What type of data could be provided to the Agency to evaluate the safety performance of drivers under 21 who operate in intrastate commerce, e.g., State managed safety performance data?
  • Are traffic violations, crashes, and inspection violations adequate to allow a comparison of safety records? If not, what other safety performance measures should be used?
  • What research should the Agency consider to assess the safety impacts of younger interstate CMV drivers?

The full text of the FMCSA publication can be viewed or downloaded as a PDF.

Sources: FMCSA, Federal Register, ATA

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