- Two senators reintroduced the Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy Act, known as the DRIVE-Safe Act, which would allow CDL holders under age 21 to haul interstate loads in certain circumstances.
- The regulation would apply to drivers who have completed, or are participating in, an apprenticeship program, according to the bill text. Such a program must include a 120-hour probationary period in which the driver proves competency in more basic driving maneuvers, followed by a 280-hour probationary period in which the driver proves competency in more advanced maneuvers.
- The DRIVE-Safe Act was introduced in the Senate in February 2019 and referred to committee, but no further action was taken. The trucking industry is somewhat split, when it comes to attempts to lower the age for interstate hauls. The American Trucking Associations supports such efforts, while the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is in opposition.
The reintroduction of the DRIVE-Safe Act coincides with the transport industry gaining increased visibility during the pandemic, as it hauls essential goods, and fleets seeking drivers for critical loads.
"The industry is vital to our everyday life, but driver shortages threaten its future," Sen. Angus King, and Independent from Maine who cosponsored the bill, said in a press release.
Allowing CDL holders under 21 to make trips over state lines is seen by some, including ATA, as a way to address the driver shortage. OOIDA, on the other hand, has voiced concerns that corporations would use such a law to take advantage of cheap, inexperienced labor.
Safety is also a concern. In a letter opposing the DRIVE-Safe Act when it was introduced in 2019, OOIDA said the minimum training standards included in the bill were "woefully inadequate."
"Because younger drivers are subjected to increasingly poor working conditions, unknowingly sign predatory lease-to-own schemes and regularly receive inadequate compensation, they rarely stay in the job long enough to accumulate the experience necessary to operate a heavy vehicle in safe and responsible manner," OOIDA wrote. "Ignoring these basic facts and promoting policies to get even younger drivers in the cab of a truck will only compound today’s turnover crisis and make our roads less safe."
The DRIVE-Safe Act would mandate trucks in the apprentice program to have active braking collision mitigation systems, forward-facing cameras and a speed limiter set at 65 miles per hour or below. The apprentice would also need to be accompanied in the cab by an experienced driver, as defined in the bill.
ATA President and CEO Chris Spear said in a press release Wednesday that the DRIVE-Safe Act would strengthen safety training "far above" what is currently required of truck drivers of the same age who are permitted to haul loads within their respective states.
And local, in-state routes "are generally reserved for seniority," the ATA said, which is a "major impediment to recruitment."
Public feedback has shown the topic is also divisive for individual stakeholders. When the FMCSA sought comments on a pilot program to allow drivers age 18-20 to work across state lines, respondents voiced a spectrum of opinions.
Some commenters younger than 21 expressed support, noting that they already have their CDLs and would like to be able to go OTR within the structure of a program, which the apprenticeship would provide. Other respondents noted the industry's need for drivers, and some said they felt age was not the most important qualifier for a driver.
"Some of us 18-20-year-olds can very well drive a tractor trailer and be safe while doing it," wrote public commenter Erik Shoell. "Do I think some don’t need to be behind the wheel? Absolutely. But I have to wanted to go over-the-road since I was almost 15."
Public comments also included those who felt opposite, that young drivers lacked the necessary mental capacity. Safety was a significant concern.
"I do not believe that they can also deal with the stresses that this industry has, let alone the responsibility it takes to get a load to a given destination on time and undamaged while also remaining safe," said commenter Brittany Humphrey. "These are huge machines that require a level of respect that only someone with a little more life experience and brain development can handle."