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Washington Roundup: A Look at the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program

As the trucking industry continues to grapple with a driver shortage exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, many have suggested allowing drivers under the age of 21 to operate in interstate commerce as a potential solution. That’s why Congress included a provision in the last highway bill requiring the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to launch a pilot program to study if well-trained younger drivers operating trucks with several onboard safety technologies can operate as safely as their older counterparts.

On January 14, 2022, the FMCSA outlined the three-year pilot program. The plan is to work with motor carriers to establish apprenticeship programs that will train and monitor CDL drivers between the ages of 18 and 21. Since the announcement, carriers have been asking for details.

The Pilot Program: A Few Things to Keep in Mind

Not every motor carrier is eligible for the program. FMCSA will scrutinize motor carriers’ safety data and exclude carriers with poor safety ratings and high crash rates. In addition, carriers transporting passengers, hazardous materials and drivers pulling longer combination vehicles or tankers will be excluded. Motor carriers must also equip vehicles with safety technology, including active collision mitigation systems, forward-facing video and speed limiters, automatic emergency braking and automatic transmissions.

Once selected, carriers must establish a two-phased program to train drivers in the skills necessary to safely operate a CMV. In each phase, the apprentice must be accompanied by an experienced driver who will provide real-time coaching and evaluation of the apprentice. Apprentices must demonstrate mastery of specified competencies to move on to the next phase. In total, apprentices will need to accumulate 400 hours of training to include 240 hours of driving. Participating motor carriers must also submit monthly data on apprentices’ operational activity, safety outcomes and additional supporting information.

How Carriers Can Participate in the Safe Driver Apprenticeship

To participate, carriers can establish an apprenticeship program meeting department of labor requirements or sign up with a sponsor, like the American Trucking Associations, who can help carriers meet program requirements. Approved, carriers must use apprentices that meet eligibility requirements and match them with experienced drivers who must be at least 26 years old and have a minimum of five years of experience operating a CMV in interstate commerce.

Once apprentices successfully complete both phases of the program, they may continue to operate in interstate commerce without an accompanying experienced driver; however, the motor carrier will still be required to provide monthly data until the driver turns 21. After apprentices complete the program, a new apprentice may join the program, though no more than 3,000 apprentices may be enrolled in the program at the same time.

While a precise timeline hasn’t been announced, FMCSA has been taking steps to launch the program as expeditiously as possible. In addition, the Biden Administration recently published its Trucking Action Plan which included timelines by which FMCSA must launch the program. Interested carriers should keep an eye on the Apprenticeship Program website for additional details and information on how to apply.

Keep Up with a Changing Regulatory Landscape Through Technology

Whether it is new initiatives such as the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program or updates to existing rule sets - the regulatory landscape of the transportation industry continues to evolve.

At Trimble, we are here to help you make sense of these changes and to utilize technology to help you ensure compliance and maximize productivity. Contact us today to learn more about our solutions and how they can improve the performance of your fleet and drivers.