Advocates for the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Program had a vision. The idea was to overcome objections to calls for FMCSA to lower the age at which truckers can begin operating in interstate commerce from 21 to 18. They would accomplish this by requiring FMCSA to study the safety of this cohort and finally prove that professional drivers under the age of 21 can operate CMVs as safely as their older counterparts. When this endeavor was included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, better known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL Section 23022), these advocates cheered, hopeful for a future in which trucking companies could begin recruiting young talent right out of high school. But there’s a problem.
Section 23022 says, in part, “effective beginning on the date that is three years after the date of establishment of the pilot program. . . the pilot program will terminate.” The BIL became law on November 15, 2021, and stipulated that the program be set up within 60 days. Since then, 33 motor carriers have been approved to participate along with only 17 drivers, well short its goal of 1,000 carriers and 3,000 drivers. At this rate, the study is unlikely to produce statistically significant or representative data, failing to produce the results predicted by the program’s champions. With enrollments advancing at a snail’s pace and less than two years remaining in the program, STC’s faith that the study will produce the reliable results needed to prove the advocate’s thesis is quickly waning. This means that a backup plan is needed, and fast.
One possible fix is for the program’s champions to ask Congress to extend the program, though relying on Congressional action in this climate might be a fool’s errand. And there’s no guarantee more time will speed carrier and driver enrollments. Regardless, trucking needs to compete more vigorously with other blue-collar professions, promote the industry as the welcoming community it is, and educate young talent on the joy and fulfillment that come with contributing to the safe delivery of America’s freight.