FMCSA Proposes New Under-21 Commercial Driver Pilot Program

Photo: Jim Park

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is proposing and seeking public comments on a pilot program to allow drivers aged 18, 19, and 20 to operate commercial vehicles in interstate commerce.

Currently, 49 states and the District of Columbia already allow 18- to 20-year-old CDL holders to operate CMVs in intrastate commerce only — meaning drivers under 21 years of age are restricted to operating within state limits.

The agency's pilot program would allow drivers to participate if they fall within two categories:

  1. 18 to 20-year-old CDL holders who operate CMVs in interstate commerce while taking part in a 120-hour probationary period and a subsequent 280-hour probationary period under an apprenticeship program established by an employer.
  2. 19 and 20-year-old commercial drivers who have operated CMVs in intrastate commerce for a minimum of one year and have at least 25,000 miles of experience.

The study group drivers would not be allowed to operate vehicles hauling passengers or hazardous materials or special configuration vehicles.

In July, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute’s National Surface Transportation Safety Center for Excellence published results of a study showed driving experience (or lack of it) is a greater factor in determining risk than age. It showed, among other things, that among drivers with seven months to one year of CMV driving experience, drivers aged 55 years and older had higher crash rates than their younger counterparts.

"Generally speaking, the first year of driving a CMV is riskier in terms of crash rates, crash involvement, and moving violations, regardless of age," the study claims.

ATA Supports the Under-21 Proposal

The same day, ATA came out in support of the proposal, calling it a significant step toward improving safety on our nation’s roads, setting a standard for these drivers that is well beyond what 49 states currently require.

“This is an amazing block of talent with unlimited potential," said ATA president and CEO Chris Spear, referring to the group of under-21 drivers. "If our freedom can be defended from tyranny around the world by our men in women in uniform, many well below the age of 21, then it’s quite clear that we can train that same group how to safely and responsibly cross state lines in a commercial vehicle."

FMCSA’s Federal Register notice requests comments on the new pilot program.

“This action will allow the Agency to carefully examine the safety, feasibility, and possible economic benefits of allowing 18 to 20-year-old drivers to operate in interstate commerce. Safety is always FMCSA’s top priority, so we encourage drivers, motor carriers, and interested citizens to review this proposed new pilot program and share their thoughts and opinions,” said FMCSA Deputy Administrator Wiley Deck.

In July 2018, FMCSA announced the details of a Military Commercial Driver Pilot Program, which allows certain 18- to 20-year-olds with military training to operate CMVs in interstate commerce.

Click here to view this Federal Register Notice and learn more about the proposed pilot program.

About the author
Jim Park

Jim Park

Equipment Editor

A truck driver and owner-operator for 20 years before becoming a trucking journalist, Jim Park maintains his commercial driver’s license and brings a real-world perspective to Test Drives, as well as to features about equipment spec’ing and trends, maintenance and drivers. His On the Spot videos bring a new dimension to his trucking reporting. And he's the primary host of the HDT Talks Trucking videocast/podcast.

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