MT. PLEASANT, S.C. – In many states, people 18 and older can already drive trucks within state lines. But to drive over state lines, you have to be 21.
But could letting teens drive big rigs across state lines help solve the current trucking shortage? It will soon be allowed under a new apprenticeship program from the federal government. The program is being launched by the Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Some ports say it will certainly help because it will expand the number of routes that younger drivers are able to take.
"We see 6,000 truck missions or about 3,500 trucks per day," said Barbara Melvin, the Chief Operating Officer of South Carolina Ports.
Fox News spoke with Melvin during a visit to the Wando Welch Terminal in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. She calls the 300-acre terminal a maritime ballet of loading and unloading trucks and ships.
"A lot of ports have been affected, including ours. It’s hit different ports at different times," Melvin said.
SC Ports says the ballet is only possible when the terminal flows well, which can be tough during a national trucker shortage. So fresh-faced truckers would be a welcomed addition to the port's operations. Omar Asby is the director of logistics solutions at SC Ports, and works with local trucker schools.
"The apprenticeship program is not the sole answer to it, but it will help it out," Asby said.
The apprenticeship program will allow drivers aged 18 to 20 to conduct interstate hauls for 120-hour and 280-hour probationary periods under the supervision of an experienced driver along for the rides.
The Georgia Ports Authority agrees there is a need to seek talent from the younger workforce.
"I am fully confident there is an untapped workforce out there that we should be using," said GA Ports Executive Director Griff Lynch.
As of October 2021, the American Trucking Association said the country was short 80,000 drivers, an all-time high for the industry. Some, like the Truck Safety Coalition, have shared concerns that interstate travel is a big responsibility for 18-year-olds.
"Commercial Motor Vehicle drivers ages 19-20 are six times more likely to be involved in fatal crashes than those aged 21 or older," TSC said in a statement in January.
"Don’t forget about the fact that they have to go through all these hours of training before they’re even set free," Asby said.
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. The young drivers would not be able to drive passengers, hazardous materials, or special configuration vehicles.
SC Ports says this extra training will help weed out people who aren’t up to the task. The new program is already running, but Asby says they aren’t expecting to see a significant improvement in the trucker shortage immediately because it will take a while to train the new, young, workforce.
"You won’t really see a lot of 18-year-olds driving, because, by the time they get done with our program, they’ll be 20, 21," Asby said.
Since it can take years to train, SC Ports hopes people as young as 16 will take an interest in training to become a trucker. That way, they’ll be ready to hit the ground running by the time they’re 18.