A new truck driver apprenticeship program will allow truck drivers under the age of 21 to travel across state lines. This federal program aims to solve the trucking industry’s need for over 80,000 drivers and supply chain issues posed by COVID-19. Many Safety advocates object to these changes on the basis that it places potentially dangerous, inexperienced drivers at the wheel of large commercial vehicles on the nation’s interstates and highways.
Historically, most states permit truck drivers between the ages of 18 to 21 to operate commercial vehicles, but they are not currently permitted to cross state lines. Federal regulations mandate that interstate truck drivers be over the age of 21. This program was proposed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in September of 2020 as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was signed into law last November and will soon become operational according to the Federal Register.
To accomplish these changes, the FMCSA will issue specific exemptions to the normal age restrictions for every individual admitted in the program. Trucks utilized for these drivers will be required to have additional safety equipment such as automatic emergency braking, forward facing video cameras and governors limiting top speeds to 65 mph. Additionally, apprentice drivers will not be permitted to operate trucks with multiple trailers or those hauling hazardous materials.
To be classified as an “experienced” commercial driver, an individual must be over the age of 26 and possess at least five years of experience driving semi-trucks. Supervisory drivers in the program are required to have at least a two-year track record of incident-free operation without crashes or tickets, before being allowed to train an apprentice.
The Truck Safety Coalition has publicly objected to the program by citing the hazards posed by teen drivers. The Coalition’s executive director, Zach Cahalan, demands that officials “demonstrate a genuine commitment to safety and publicly commit to terminating the program after the first fatality or serious injury.”
A study conducted by the University of Michigan revealed a 500% increase in injury crashes for truck drivers under the age of 21 when compared to semi drivers overall. The Advocates for Highway Auto Safety are also opposed to these changes and opine “it makes no sense to put one of the most dangerous driving populations behind the wheel of 80,000-pound rigs.” As the program stands, apprentice drivers will likely complete the program long before reaching their 21st birthday, which would allow for them to get behind the wheel of a semi-truck without any of the added safety equipment required by the apprenticeship.
Despite the delayed implementation of these new regulations, semi-truck crashes continue to rise. If you or your loved one has been killed or seriously injured in a crash involving a semi, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries. If you would like a complementary case evaluation, contact Kendall Law Group at (816) 531-3100 or sign up here.