A group of diverse young people in front of a line of heavy-duty trucks.

Revisions to a pilot program on younger truck drivers could increase the number of participants in the apprenticeship program.

Image: HDT Graphic

A federal program designed to look at the safety of younger commercial truck drivers is getting a Congressionally mandated revision to remove some provisions that were believed to be hindering the program’s progress.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on May 14 published a notice revising its Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program to remove requirements that participating motor carriers use inward-facing cameras and become DOL-registered apprenticeship programs.

The Younger-Truck-Driver Conundrum

In 49 states plus the District of Columbia, 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds can get a commercial driver’s license and drive heavy-duty commercial vehicles in intrastate commerce, but federal rules have long prohibited those same drivers from driving in interstate commerce. 

This often means that young people coming out of high school don’t explore trucking as a career, and by the time they turn 21, they often already are in a different career.

The Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program was intended to study potential paths and safeguards that would allow these younger drivers to safely work in interstate trucking. FMCSA announced the program in 2022, after the 2021 the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act required the DOT to set up such a program.

The language of that bill called for:

  • Specific probationary periods.
  • For apprentices to be accompanied in the passenger seat by an experienced driver.
  • That the trucks driven by these apprentices be equipped with an active braking collision mitigation system, automated or automatic transmission, forward-facing video event capture system, and a governed speed of 65 mph.

Younger Truck Driver Apprenticeship Program Flounders in Red Tape

However, among the motor carrier requirements for participation in the final regulation from FMCSA were the installation and use of inward-facing cameras and that motor carriers receive approval as a Registered Apprenticeship Program from the Department of Labor.

Although the younger-driver pilot program opened for applications in August 2022, more than a year later, it still had not gotten enough participants for a statistically valid research effort.

According to the American Trucking Associations, the apprenticeship program was capped at 3,000 participating drivers at any one time, but only a few dozen had enrolled.

As HDT previously reported, the topic was one of several that a House subcommittee grilled then-FMCSA administrator Robin Hutcheson on in December 2023. In that hearing, Cory Maloy (R-UT) charged that the program had requirements that were not in the IIJA that made it too difficult to qualify.

The American Trucking Associations and the International Foodservice Distributors Association championed a provision in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, signed in March, which said FMCSA may not require motor carriers wishing to participate in the SDAP Program to use inward-facing cameras or become DOL-registered apprenticeship programs.

FMCSA Accepting Motor Carrier Applications for Revised Younger-Driver Pilot Program

In the FMCSA’s May 14 notice, it said motor carriers wishing to participate in the SDAP Program will not be required to meet either provision.

In addition, motor carriers already participating in the SDAP Program will no longer be required to use inward-facing cameras or to maintain their approved Registered Apprenticeship program.

Motor carriers may, voluntarily, decide to install or use inward-facing cameras, or become an approved Registered Apprenticeship. They may choose to include safety alerts from inward facing cameras as part of their monthly data submissions. However, they will not be required to do so, even if they choose to use inward-facing cameras.

FMCSA is accepting applications from motor carriers for the pilot program. Links for the application, which has been revised to conform with the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2024, are available on the Agency's website at www.fmcsa.dot.gov.

FMCSA also said it will reach out to motor carriers that previously submitted applications but were missing Registered Apprenticeship numbers to determine whether they are still interested in participating in the SDAP Program.

About the author
Deborah Lockridge

Deborah Lockridge

Editor and Associate Publisher

Reporting on trucking since 1990, Deborah is known for her award-winning magazine editorials and in-depth features on diverse issues, from the driver shortage to maintenance to rapidly changing technology.

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