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Feds reject trucking industry’s advice for under-21 driver program

Federal regulators have rejected certain recommendations from trucking and safety groups on its CDL pilot program for those ages 18-21 as regulators work to keep the project on track before a White House approval deadline.

In a notice scheduled to be published on Monday, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration stated it is turning down advice from the American Trucking Associations and others that the agency do away with a requirement that carriers participating in FMCSA’s Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot (SDAP) also join the U.S. Department of Labor’s registered apprenticeship program.

DOL’s program, part of the Biden administration’s Trucking Action Plan, just completed a 90-day Apprenticeship Trucking Challenge to jump-start carrier apprenticeships as a way to boost the trucking industry’s driver ranks.

In comments filed with FMCSA earlier this year, ATA noted that while it supports both the FMCSA and DOL apprenticeships, many carriers may not want to sign up for the DOL program because of the added costs. ATA also pointed out that requiring carriers to sign on to the DOL apprenticeship in order to be part of FMCSA pilot was not required under the federal infrastructure law authorizing FMCSA’s program.

“Indeed, to use one program to expand another program at a separate cabinet agency seems well outside the scope of FMCSA’s general mandate,” ATA stated. Most importantly, ATA added, by not eliminating the DOL participation requirement, “there is a very real possibility that small and medium carriers and overall subscription to the [FMCSA] program may be delayed or reduced due to the costs and burdens associated.”

But FMCSA rejected ATA’s assertions. While it acknowledged that the DOL requirement was not specifically part of the infrastructure law, “FMCSA maintains that a registered apprenticeship with DOL is an important step in the safety and monitoring oversight of the SDAP to minimize the risk of apprentice drivers experiencing coercion, unfair wages, or other practices that could lead to unsafe behaviors from apprentice drivers,” the agency responded.

FMCSA also rejected a series of joint recommendations by the Truck Safety Coalition, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, and Parents Against Tired Truckers. The groups wanted FMCSA to increase the requirement that drivers serving as apprentice trainers have five consecutive years with no safety violations or crashes, up from two years under the current program.

“The idea of pairing an 18-year-old driver with a trainer who only has two consecutive years of violation-free driving experience to qualify for supervised training is woefully inadequate,” they warned.

The safety groups also recommended that FMCSA increase the minimum rate of liability insurance from $750,000 to $10 million for participating carriers and use markings on the trucks to visibly identify “youth drivers in training.”

Watch: Should younger drivers get interstate CDLs?

In response, FMCSA said it found no benefit or reason to increase the requirement on experienced drivers from what was required in the infrastructure law. Regarding insurance, it noted that minimum financial liability requirements are set by regulatory statute and the agency “does not have the authority to increase this rate for participating carriers.”

As for calling out drivers in training, FMCSA said doing so “has the potential to bias the data collection by creating a potential for behavior changes in surrounding drivers that decreases the integrity of naturalistic data collection. … Furthermore, this could impact the ability to properly compare safety performance of these drivers with other drivers.”

FMCSA confirmed that 102 of the 144 comments on the SDAP were opposed to it, 31 supported it and 11 were neutral. Most of the comments were from individuals. Of the 10 comments from organizations, associations or motor carriers, six supported it and four opposed.

An emergency information collection request (ICR) was approved by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget in January. Getting OMB to approve Monday’s ICR is a necessary step to moving the under-21 driver pilot forward before the emergency ICR expires on July 31.

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.