The catch-22 of having young truck drivers

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The meandering path to licensing drivers 18-21 years old to operate commercial vehicles across state lines received a bit of reprieve as Congress looks to revise some conditions that was said to hold back participation.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration recently revised its Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program to dismiss requirements on participating carriers to use cameras or become DOL-registered apprenticeship programs.

[Related: FMCSA to make Congressionally-required changes to under-21 pilot program]

Since the program began accepting applications in July 2022, only 113 motor carriers have applied for its under-21 truck driver apprenticeship program, with FMCSA rejecting 34% of applications, according to a fiscal year 2022 report.

Though the new revision received support and viewed to bolster the trucking industry, it had also been met with opposing opinions, pointing out safety issues.

This comes alongside news of Washington-based Connell High School’s initiative to allow 17-year-old students to obtain CDL, and its endeavor to petition the FMCSA for an exemption to permit students under the age of 18 in their program to obtain a CDL.

I remember being in high school, eager to make a buck and gain independence, and pursued various part-time jobs in food service, retail sales and photography. I always knew I wanted to write, but I was keen on exploring other career paths, too.

Looking back, I was grateful I started exploring opportunities early on, and given the chance, I think they would be, too. 

This is the kind of vocational training we need today, something that organizations such as The Next Generation in Trucking Association is trying to do. The approach tackles the shortage of qualified drivers and provides young adults with valuable career opportunities.

[Related: Next Generation in Trucking Foundation launches CDL curriculum for high schools]

For students who may not be inclined toward traditional academic routes, these programs can offer a viable and rewarding alternative. Additionally, providing high school students with insights to the trucking careers can help shift the perception of the industry, and attract a new generation of skilled workers.

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Of course, there’s two sides of a coin. Safety concerns are a main concern. Others have touted how uneasy they would be driving behind a truck with an 18-year-old on the wheel, while some have pointed out how many young people already do so in the military, often transporting hazardous materials.

By implementing a structured CDL program, schools can ensure students are well-prepared and responsible drivers when they enter the workforce. Besides offering practical skills and hands-on experience, these programs can encourage public confidence and trust in the abilities of young drivers and showcase the potential for under-21 truck operations.

As young drivers take the roads, public confidence and trust is crucial but with the right training by qualified mentors on correct working conditions and safety regulations, age becomes irrelevant. Whether you’re 18, 21, or 45, a safe driver is simply a safe driver.

Pamella De Leon is a senior editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. An avid reader and travel enthusiast, she likes hiking, running, and is always on the look out for a good cup of chai. Reach her at [email protected].