Congress Further Considers Apprenticeship Program for Prospective Drivers Under 21

apprenticeship program

The trucking industry has experienced outsized effects during the coronavirus pandemic. Deemed essential workers, yet at a higher risk of contracting or spreading the COVID-19 virus due to their interactions with others, the trucking sector has been at a crossroads. Higher freight demands and thousands of truckers out of work due to illness have complicated matters even more. To ease the strain on the trucking industry, the U.S. Congress is proposing changes to driver training standards with a bill that could allow drivers under 21 years of age to drive while they complete an apprenticeship program. Commercial transportation companies must gain an understanding of this proposal as a risk management step to support the protection of trucking insurance.

Background of the Drive-Safe Act

In 2018, a bill known as the Drive-Safe Act was introduced in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. The bill, backed by the American Trucking Associations and under the direction of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), would allow prospective 18- to 20-year old truck drivers to operate on the national interstate system while completing a drivers training program. The Drive-Safe Act is an extension of a statute passed in 2015 called the FAST Act directing the FMCSA to develop a pilot program for apprentice drivers under the age of 21.

The FMCSA also proposed changes to driver training requirements, and those proposals became rules in 2019. Unfortunately, the rules’ implementation was delayed until February 2022. By delaying the implementation, the FMCSA gains time to further develop driver training registries and the entry-level driver training (ELDT) certification program.

New Congressional Bill May Change Driver Training Rules

The Drive-Safe Act (Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy) proposes to classify drivers aged 18 to 20 years of age as apprentices and allow them to drive interstate routes while participating in a formal driver apprenticeship program. The proposed apprenticeship program would require:

  • 400 on-duty hours
  • 240 driving hours
  • Training and competency testing on truck driving procedures
  • Supervision of experienced drivers during the driving portion of the program

All trucks used for training in the proposed apprenticeship program would be required to be equipped with specialized safety equipment, including video event capture technology and a limiter to keep vehicle speeds at or below 65 miles per hour. It is unclear what, if any, effect these proposed rule changes will have on trucking insurance, particularly in regard to drivers under 21 years of age.

Pushback from Industry Organizations

The Drive-Safe Act has gained the support of the American Trucking Associations, which applauds Congressional efforts to get more drivers on the road. The transportation industry has long suffered under a lack of qualified drivers due to attrition and illnesses or injury. When COVID-19 struck, driver shortages compounded dramatically.

Not every trucking organization is enthusiastic about the proposed legislation. In fact, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which has opposed allowing drivers under 21 to cross state lines, argues that the age restrictions should be tightened rather than loosened, even during the pandemic’s unprecedented need for truck drivers.

As trucking companies gauge their risk exposures, support from Congress can only help to ease some of the burdens the industry faces. While trucking insurance provides many protections for the industry, Congressional intervention serves to strengthen the industry’s risk management programs. Reevaluating the driver training requirements and lowering the age of interstate drivers can only help to ensure that trucks can continue to provide their essential services to the U.S. economy.

About Western Truck Insurance Services

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