DOT sets up pilot program for under-21 veterans to operate trucks
- A test program from the Department of Transportation will allow 18- to 20-year-olds with the military equivalent of a commercial license to operate large trucks in interstate commerce, reports Transport Topics.
- The addition of veterans and reservists into the workforce could help address the driver shortage, said Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
- The announcement did not say when the program would begin, but it could last for three years.
Driving a big rig in interstate commerce is not for everyone. Currently, no one under 21 can do so. In 1975, a federal review concluded that young drivers "lack the general maturity, skill and judgment that is necessary in handling commercial motor vehicles."
Now, three decades later, the Department of Transportation is setting out to see if that’s still true. If after a public comment period it’s approved by the White House Office of Management and Budget, the program will run for up to three years.
The young drivers will be hired and monitored by carriers approved by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Their safety records will be compared with those of a control group of drivers. They would not, however, be allowed to transport passengers or hazardous materials.
The basic training programs for heavy vehicle operations in the military were reviewed by both the FMCSA and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators and determined to be equal to, or greater than, the standards required for a civilian CDL applicant.
In 2016, FMCSA proposed a similar program to meet the requirements of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. Not everyone is in favor. In fact, only 67 comments were received during the 60-day public comment period. Forty approved of it with reservations, nine disapproved and the remainder made requests that were outside the scope of the program.
Most of those who said they approved hinged acceptance upon FMCSA accepting their suggestions and recommendations. The nine who dissented primarily cited safety concerns. These included the National Safety Council, Truck Safety Coalition (TSC), Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (AHAS) and Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways.
AHAS pointed to crash data indicating that commercial motor vehicle drivers ages 19 to 20 are about six times more likely to be involved in police-reported injury and fatality crashes per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, compared with all other truck drivers age 21 and older.
Driving one of those huge vehicles is a lot of responsibility for an 18-year-old. Excellent training and very close, careful monitoring will be of the essence if this program is enacted. And that’s no sure thing.
Follow Barry Hochfelder on Twitter