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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Autos

Let them drive

I see a degree of irony in trucking industry news I just read.  I recently wrote of those aged 16-20 being less interested in owning and driving cars than ever — many even postpone obtaining licenses beyond that age. But not when it comes to big rigs.

In an article by trucking journalist John G. Smith, I learned that more young drivers are seeking clearance to make interstate runs in full-sized tractor/trailer trucks.

According to Smith, United States regulators are taking an important step toward a pilot program that would allow truck drivers as young as 18 to operate commercial motor vehicles for interstate commerce.

While CDL (Commercial Driver License) holders below the age of 21 can drive trucks in 49 states and the District of Columbia, their trips between jurisdictions have been traditionally restricted.  Now, for example, the younger drivers can complete a trip between Houston and El Paso, Texas, but not complete an extended journey across several states.

The pilot program would be limited to 18-20-year-old CDL holders taking part in a 120-hour probationary period, followed by a 280-hour apprenticeship program established by an employer, or 19-20-year-old commercial drivers who have operated in intrastate commerce for at least one year and 40,000 km.  Participants wouldn’t be allowed to operate vehicles transporting passengers, haul hazardous materials, or operate special configurations.

The idea for the project, which will open up jobs for eager drivers, was first proposed in May 2019, when U.S. regulators began to consider necessary required training, qualifications, driving limitations, insurance, vehicle safety systems, and other related topics.

“This is a significant step toward improving safety on our nation’s roads, setting a standard for these drivers that is well beyond what 49 states currently require,” American Trucking Associations (ATA) president and CEO Chris Spear said on Friday in a bulletin for members.  He expounded, “The pilot program would require drivers to meet safety and skill requirements far and above current standards.”

Drivers benefitting from this proposal won’t be the first young drivers cleared for interstate commerce. This program builds on a similar project unveiled in July 2018, which involves 18 to 20 year-olds who completed heavy vehicle training while in the U.S. military.

 

Research by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration supports the idea that younger drivers can be safe.  In the years 2012-17 studied for Traffic Safety Facts:  A Compilation of Motor Vehicle Crash Data, male drivers from 16-20 had a lower involvement in fatal crashes than those from the ages of 21-24.  However, an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) look at 2017 data found that drivers aged 18-19 were 2.3 times more likely than those 20 and older to be in a fatal crash.

Interest in allowing younger drivers hasn’t been limited to the U.S.  Quebec has trained hundreds of youth in pilot projects of its own, and is currently preparing legislation that will allow truck drivers as young as 18.  That legislation is expected to come into effect this fall.

Public comments about the proposal are now being collected by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

Regardless of the driver’s age, always use utmost caution while driving among trucks. In all accidents involving passenger vehicles and trucks, the fault is rarely with the truck driver.  People regularly exhibit radical driving behavior in the vicinity of large trucks — try to avoid doing that.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at precisiondriving@spokesman.com.