The federal government will let teens drive transports throughout the nation in a move it hopes will alleviate the supply chain crisis – but the initiative is being panned by critics who fear it could lead to disaster.
The new apprenticeship program deviates from current law – which requires truckers crossing state lines to be at least 21 years old – by allowing 18- to 20-year-old drivers to travel beyond their home states.
The push to change the law comes as the industry faces an exodus of 600,000 retiring truckers by 2028, and the Transportation Department estimated last October that 80,000 new hires were needed this year to offset attrition and clear a backed-up supply chain.
The pilot program, detailed last week in a proposed regulation from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, would screen the teens and bar any with driving-while-impaired violations or traffic tickets for causing a crash.
But safety advocates say the program runs counter to data showing that younger drivers get in more crashes than older ones.
They say it’s unwise to let teenage drivers be responsible for rigs that can weigh 80,000 pounds and cause catastrophic damage when they hit lighter vehicles.
Peter Kurdock, general counsel for Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety, said federal data shows that younger drivers have far higher crash rates than older ones.
‘This is no surprise to any American who drives a vehicle,’ he said.
Putting them behind the wheel of trucks that can weigh up to 40 tons when loaded increases the possibility of mass casualty crashes, he said.
Kurdock said the trucking industry has wanted younger drivers for years and used supply chain issues to get it into the infrastructure bill.
He fears the industry will use skewed data from the program to push for teenage truckers nationwide.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the initiative would help keep cargo moving in an otherwise understaffed industry.
‘In some parts of the trucking industry, 90 percent of drivers turn over each year,’ he said in a statement.
‘Making sure truck drivers are paid and treated fairly is the right thing to do, and it will help with both recruiting new drivers and keeping experienced drivers on the job.’
The apprenticeship pilot program was required by Congress as part of the infrastructure bill signed into law November 15. It requires the FMCSA, which is part of the Transportation Department, to start the program within 60 days.
The American Trucking Associations, a large industry trade group, supports the measure as a way to help with a shortage of drivers.
Under the apprenticeship, younger drivers can cross state lines during 120-hour and 280-hour probationary periods, as long as an experienced driver is in the passenger seat.
Trucks used in the program have to have an electronic braking crash mitigation system, a forward facing video camera, and their speeds must be lim…