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Spangenberg Shibley & Liber LLP | Jul 6, 2018

Federal Government Backs Under-21 Commercial Driver Pilot Program in Response to Nationwide Trucker Shortage

Categories: Truck Accident

The federal government has announced it will support a new pilot program that will allow 18 to 20-year-olds to drive commercial trucks across state lines. The program, confirmed recently by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), will seek 200 drivers from 70+ trucking companies nationwide to participate in the test operation and compare the safety record of under-21 truckers with those in a control group to determine whether or not the program should be expanded, and new trucking laws passed.

Here are some details about the FMCSA’s pilot program and current laws regarding commercial drivers:

  • Current federal trucking regulations require a person to be at least 21 years old in order to obtain a commercial driver’s license for interstate commerce. The pilot program will now allow drivers between 18 and 20 to drive trucks and commercial vehicles across state lines.
  • The pilot program is currently open to under-21 drivers with certain military and occupational backgrounds, including members of the National Guard.
  • Federal regulators state that the program will include requirements that under-21 drivers complete 240 hours of apprentice driving with veteran CDL holders before driving on their owns, and will cap max speeds for an apprentice driver at 65 mph.

The pilot program is the latest response to the trucking industry’s long-standing truck driver shortage. According to industry statistics, the shortage is expected to surpass 60,000 this year, meaning that for every 12 loads of cargo that need to be shipped, there is only one available trucker to do the job. While trucking operators and many companies which rely on them support the program and larger efforts to lower the minimum driving age, citing the fact that many states already allow 18 to 20-year-olds to drive trucks within state boarders, the program has garnered a fair deal of criticism from safety advocates.

Among the reasons for opposing a reduced truck driver age limit, advocates have cited many issues that would pose increased risks of truck accidents. These include:

  • A reduced age limit would enable large corporations to benefit from cheap labor while at the same time increase risks to public safety.
  • Younger motorists are more likely to cause motor vehicle accidents, including fatal accidents, than older drivers. According to data from the CDC, teen drivers are more than 3 times as likely as those over 20 to cause fatal wrecks.
  • Crash risks associated with young drivers would be elevated by allowing them to operate commercial trucks, which can weigh up to 80,000 pounds and are substantially more difficult to stop, maneuver, and control than standard automobiles.

As the FMCSA prepared to launch the new program latest this year, it is likely that it will continue to receive blowback from safety advocates throughout the country. However, it does have the support of a Presidential administration that has shown support for deregulation, and for supporting various trucking industry efforts to rollback trucking regulations and block the passage of new laws designed to keep public roadways safe. This includes efforts we recently discussed in a previous blog post on the trucking industry, including recent regulatory rollbacks of laws requiring truckers to take mandatory rest breaks during early morning hours, blocking the development of a program that would regulate truckers with sleep apnea and other medical conditions that increase their risks of crashing, and opposition of laws that would require trucking companies to install side underride guards, which have been proven to reduce catastrophic injuries and deaths, on their rigs.

As many believe, the shift toward deregulation and support of corporations that put profits ahead of people could very well increase risks when it comes to trucking accidents, which are known for their potential for causing devastating damage, injuries, and death. If there is any consolation to this trend, it is that people always have the ability to speak out against issues they believe are unfair and dangerous, and that new regulations which lower safety standards won’t impact the ability of victims to take legal action against the companies that could and should have taken steps to make safety a priority, and which caused preventable harm due to their negligent acts.

At Spangenberg Shibley & Liber LLP, our Cleveland personal injury lawyers are readily available to help victims and families who suffer harm and losses in a range of accidents involving trucks, tractor-trailers, and commercial vehicles. We know trucking accidents create the potential for more devastating injuries and losses, and are committed to leveraging our decades of experience in the fight for justice and full compensation. If you would like to discuss a truck accident case, and learn more about your right to compensation and how our firm can fight to protect it, please contact us for a free consultation.