The federal government is preparing to roll out a new apprenticeship program allowing some 18 to 20-year-olds to drive big rigs across state lines as part of efforts to address the ongoing supply chain crisis in the U.S.
Nearly every state in the union already allows 18 to 20-year-olds with commercial driver's licenses to drive semi-trucks within the confines of the state, but the new program mandated in Congress' bipartisan infrastructure package will allow up to 3,000 selected participants of that age group at any given time to haul loads beyond their home states.
The program is being launched by the Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and allows the younger truckers to conduct interstate hauls for 120-hour and 280-hour probationary periods under the supervision of an experienced driver along for the rides. Following the probationary periods the apprentices will be able to drive solo, but their employer must monitor their performance until they reach 21.
No applicants will be accepted if they have violations on their record for either driving while impaired or causing an accident. Participating apprentices will not be allowed to transport passengers or hazardous materials, and they are also prohibited from operating special configuration vehicles during the program.
Trucking groups are celebrating the new program, as the industry deals with a staggering shortage of some 80,000 truckers amid the ongoing supply chain crunch in the U.S.
"We support this program because it dramatically raises safety and training standards above today’s bar," Nick Geale, vice president of workforce policy at American Trucking Associations, told FOX Business in a statement.
"Currently in 49 states plus the District of Columbia, 18-20-year-olds can obtain a CDL and operate large commercial vehicles—they just can’t cross state lines under federal law," Geale explained. "In practice, this means a 20-year-old can drive her rig thousands of miles across a large state like Texas or California, but she can’t pick-up or drop a load one mile across the border in a neighboring state. Moreover, those 49 states require no advanced training or safety standards for those under-21 drivers; All they need is a CDL."
But road safety advocates fought against implementing the pilot, citing concerns about having less experienced drivers – who statistically cause more accidents – driving longer distances with 40-ton rigs.
"Truck driving is one of the most dangerous occupations in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and nearly 5,000 people were killed in crashes involving a large truck in 2020," Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety President Cathy Chase told FOX Business in a statement.
Chase said that long before the supply chain crunch the trucking industry had pushed for the government to "green-light inexperienced, risk-prone teenagers to be behind the wheel of 80,000-pound trucks traveling throughout the country," and argued that the move will predictably lead to more road deaths.
A similar pilot program was launched in 2018 that allowed 18 to 20-year-olds who held the military equivalent of a CDL to operate semi-trucks across state lines. That program was set to last for three years. FOX Business did not immediately receive a response from the FMCSA after seeking the results of that program.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.