Advancing a program to allow adults under 21 years old to transport goods and materials across state lines on semi-trucks has become something of a head-scratcher. That’s largely because the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently asked the White House Office of Management and Budget for “emergency approval.” But a mirror pilot program had already been conducted in 2018 for military personnel and reservists under 21 who possessed a CDL equivalent.
“This program will allow our veterans and reservists to translate their extensive training into good-paying jobs operating commercial vehicles safely across the country, while also addressing the nationwide driver shortage,” former Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao reportedly stated in 2018.
One would imagine that the successful pilot program under Section 5404 of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act would have set a national program in motion before the country struggled to fill a reported 80,000 truck driver shortfall. The FMCSA reportedly sought 200 truckers for the study to compare safety data with overall trucking statistics. At the time, outfits such as the Teamsters union, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH), Public Citizen, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) were reportedly against approving the measure.
“We feel if they want to make a 150-mile radius that’s fine, but this deal of letting younger people just go all over the country, it’s unsafe, it’s crazy. We all know that younger people crash more. They have more accidents,” OOIDA executive vice president Lewie Pugh reportedly said at the time. The OOIDA also argues that no truck driver shortage exists.
With no clear leadership at the FMCSA, after Meera Joshi abruptly resigned to take a post in New York Mayor Eric Adams’ administration, interim officials are trying to drag the pilot program across the finish line. Under the DRIVE-Safe Act, part of the recent $1.2 federal infrastructure spending package, under-21 CDL holders will again be studied to determine whether a younger workforce can safely buoy the industry.
What seems counterintuitive is that the 3-year, under 21 military pilot program should already provide sufficient data to pull the trigger and move forward. But like many Washington, D.C., solutions, the FMCSA appears to have taken a step backward.
“The request for emergency (Office of Management and Budget) approval was issued to help meet deadlines for establishing the apprenticeship program outlined in the bipartisan infrastructure law, also known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act,” an FMCSA spokesperson reportedly said. “At this time, nothing is being requested from the motor carriers. This (information collection request) is informing the public of the information collection and the opportunity to comment.”
The latest pilot program only allows truckers with intrastate CDLs to participate, much like the previous military one drafted about four years ago. In many ways, the recent FMCSA moves are like déjà vu all over again.