Approved Changes Wont Bolster Failing Under 21 Trucker Apprenticeship Program

teens under 21 interstate pilot program - cdl school news

With hopes of 3,000 max participating teen drivers to haul interstate, only 36 have enrolled in the program since late 2022! 

Today, there are 49 states, and the District of Columbia, that allow 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds to obtain a CDL and drive heavy-duty commercial vehicles in intrastate commerce.

To help fight the driver shortage or lack of quality truckers on the road, the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law included a nationwide pilot program to create a pathway for these younger drivers to cross state lines and operate in interstate commerce with rigorous safety and training guardrails.

While many complained about these drivers being unsafe, these guardrails may have led to the lackluster enrollment by carriers and young drivers.

To date, only 34 carriers have been approved for the program of the 113 who applied. Similarly, only 36 young drivers enrolled in the program.

This pilot program only runs through 2025. So how will they shake up the program?

How FMCSA plans to fix SDAP participation

To improve participation in SDAP, an appropriations bill signed by President Joe Biden earlier this year ails to removes two restrictions which many saw as barriers to participation.

The revision are:

  1. FMCSA will no longer require that motor carriers wishing to participate in the SDAP Program install or use inward facing cameras.
  2. Additionally, motor carriers will not be required to obtain a Registered Apprenticeship number from the Department of Labor before they will be allowed to participate in the SDAP Program.

These revisions have now been approved but will likely not help 10x to 100x enrollment from 36 drivers to up to 3,000.

Motor carriers who are 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.

All other motor carrier requirements remain unchanged from the notice published on January 14, 2022 (87 FR 2477).

Carriers looking to join the SDAP can still register

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 SDAP website.

FMCSA will, proactively, reach out to motor carriers who previously submitted applications but were missing Registered Apprenticeship numbers to determine whether the motor carriers are still interested in participating in the SDAP Program.

What are the SDAP requirements?

Driver and training requirements for the apprenticeship program

Drivers must complete at least 400 hours of on-duty time and 240 hours of driving time accompanied by an experienced driver in an automatic or automatic manual transmission truck with automatic emergency braking, and top speed limited to 65 miles per hour.

The supervising driver must be at least 26 years old and have at least five years’ experience driving a CMV interstate and a CDL for at least 2 years and is required to have two years of incident-free driving with no crashes or tickets.

The young drivers in the program are also not allowed to drive trucks with more than one trailer or carry hazardous materials.

The FMCSA will issue a specific exemption to the normal age restrictions for each young driver admitted to the program, which will run for up to three years and complete a report to Congress analyzing the safety record of the teen drivers and making a recommendation on whether the younger drivers are as safe as those 21 or older.

Motor carrier requirements for the apprenticeship program

Motor carriers interested in participating must complete an application for participation and submit monthly data on:

  • an apprentice’s driver activity (vehicle miles traveled, duty hours, driving hours, off-duty time or breaks)
  • safety outcomes (crashes, violations, and safety-critical events), and
  • any additional supporting information (onboard monitoring systems or investigative reports from previous crashes)

In addition, carriers will be required to notify FMCSA within 24 hours of:

  1. any injury or fatal crash involving an apprentice
  2. an apprentice receiving an alcohol-related citation in any vehicle (driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated)
  3. an apprentice choosing to leave the pilot program
  4. an apprentice leaving the carrier, or
  5. an apprentice failing a random or post-crash drug and alcohol test

The pilot program includes two probationary periods, one for 120 hours and the other for 280 hours. After that, until they turn 21, they will be able to drive by themselves but under continuous monitoring by trucking companies, including monthly safety performance reports filed with FMCSA.

The first probationary period must include at least 120 hours of on-duty time, of which at least 80 hours are driving time in a CMV. During this period, the motor carrier must ensure the apprentice:

  1. Completes the required hours of driving time, and
    1. is competent in each of the following areas: interstate, city traffic, rural 2-lane and evening driving; safety awareness; speed and space management; lane control; mirror scanning; right and left turns; and logging and complying with rules relating to hours of service.
  2. The second probationary period must include at least 280 hours of on-duty time, including no fewer than 160 hours of driving time in a CMV. During this period, the motor carrier must ensure the apprentice:
    1. Completes the required driving time, and
    2. is competent in each of the following areas: backing and maneuvering in close quarters; pre-trip inspections; fueling procedures; weighing loads, weight distribution and sliding tandems; coupling and uncoupling procedures; and trip planning, truck routes, map reading, navigation and permits.

Learn more about all levels of truck driver training that we offer at our CNS Driver Training Center.

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