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Ready for Gen Z Drivers? Not Yet.

Talk of 18- to 21-year-olds driving semis was all the rage back in November 2021. When the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program (SDAP) was announced as part of the Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act (IIJA) it seemed like the Gen Z takeover was imminent.

So where are we now? And more importantly, where are the teen drivers? Should we be looking for “Teen Driver in Training” stickers? Are they out there among us?

Not yet is the short answer. On January 14, 2022, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) officially launched SDAP. As of press time, their website indicated they will announce a date to begin accepting applications from companies who wish to become approved motor carriers. In the meantime, FMCSA advises interested carriers to make sure they set up a Registered Apprenticeship Program.

Debate Continues on Allowing Younger Drivers

While the industry waits, the topic of whether younger drivers should be allowed to drive interstate rages on.

During the public open comment period 1/7/22–6/17/22, the major players came out swinging with leaders like American Trucking Associations (ATA) and the Commercial Vehicle Training Association supporting the move and others including the Truck Safety Coalition, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH) and Parents Against Tired Truckers opposing the program.

ATA sees it as an essential measure to address the 80,000-driver shortfall in the industry. Opponents like CRASH and Parents Against Tired Truckers believe the move to be too risky, citing a 1991 study that revealed 19- to 20-year-old commercial vehicle drivers were six times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than the average trucker.

FMCSA Provides Details on Program Requirements

As the sides moved to their respective corners, the FMCSA is moving forward. Teen drivers will have to cool their heels for the moment. Once the approved motor carriers are announced, 18- to 20-year-old CDL holders can apply for the program through these employers.

The FMCSA has capped the number of drivers who can participate in the three-year program at 3,000. These apprentices will go through a first 120-hour probationary period and then a second 280-hour probationary period. Apprentices will be paired with an experienced senior driver with a driving record meeting safety requirements defined in the IIJA.

Apprentice drivers will be able to drive interstate with their experienced partner—but not without restrictions and stipulations. As far as equipment, they can only drive automatic or automatic manual transmissions with active braking collision mitigation. Techwise, they’ll be monitored by a forward-facing video event capture system. As far as loads are concerned, they are prohibited from transporting hazmat or passengers, operating cargo tank vehicles or hauling double- or triple-trailer combinations.

In addition to meeting safety standards outlined by FMCSR, carriers and apprentice drivers must meet reporting requirements. Findings will be compared to crash and violation stats for all ages as well as for other 18- to 20-year-olds driving intrastate.

Three years from now we’ll have data to guide future decisions—and if the program works as intended, we could have 3,000 of the best-trained under-21 truck drivers the industry has ever seen.

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