FMCSA Takes First Steps with Under-21 Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program

Feb 22, 2022 By:

In order to drive a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce, current U.S. regulations require drivers to be at least 21 years old. This limits opportunities for younger drivers, who may already be driving longer distances on permitted intrastate routes. For example, a young driver might drive hundreds of miles across a state but couldn’t drive 10 miles to cross the border from one state to another. Not only do these regulations limit younger drivers’ earning potential, it may also act as a deterrent for young people considering entering the trucking industry in general. By the time they are old enough to haul freight across state lines, these would-be drivers may be engrained in other careers.

The American Trucking Associations (ATA), along with Ruan and other industry advocates, has been fighting to pass legislation to lower the required age to drive interstate for years now, but the effort finally gained traction in 2021. To help address the ongoing truck driver shortage and find ways to bring younger drivers into the industry, the Biden administration recently passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs package. The bipartisan DRIVE-Safe Act was also included in the bill, which is designed to help eliminate one of the primary obstacles in bringing younger drivers into the transportation industry. This act will establish an apprenticeship program to allow for the legal operation of a commercial vehicle in interstate commerce by commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders under the age of 21.

Recently, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) took the first step in establishing a program to collect data from eventual motor carrier pilot program participants. The FMCSA will be looking at things such as technologies offered, safety records, average on-duty time, incident reports, inspection data, and more to make its final decisions about the program and possible motor carrier participants. The ultimate goal is to make Registered Apprenticeships safer and easier to set up for the pilot program and other entry-level drivers as well.

Under this program, an apprentice would be defined as a person under the age of 21 who currently holds a CDL. As part of the program, apprentices would complete two probationary periods where they can operate in interstate commerce under the supervision of an experienced driver in the passenger seat. Experienced drivers must be at least 26 years old and have held a CDL and been employed by a motor carrier for at least the past two years, with at least five years of interstate commercial motor vehicle experience, along with other safety requirements.

The first probationary period will consist of 120 on-duty hours (at least 80 of which must be spent driving), during which the apprentice will be evaluated on safety awareness, speed and space management, lane control, right and left turns, and more. The second probationary period will be 280 hours of on-duty time (at least 160 of which must be spent driving), during which the apprentice will be evaluated on backing and maneuvering in close quarters, pre-trip inspections, fueling procedures, trip planning, and more. Trucks used in the program must be equipped with advanced driver assistance systems, automated emergency braking systems, onboard monitoring systems, and forward- and inward-facing video systems. Once an apprentice successfully completes both probationary periods, they will be permitted to operate in interstate commerce unaccompanied.

“The program should ensure apprentices receive top-notch training from experienced drivers and have the added benefit of alleviating the growing driver shortage by providing more opportunities for younger drivers,” said Ruan Driver Recruiting Manager Kelli Boyle.

Like other motor carriers, Ruan is excited about the possibilities of the DRIVE-Safe Act and the new apprenticeship program. Many young drivers already hold CDLs and drive intrastate, but now they will have avenues to expand their training and careers by driving across state lines as well.