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Under current federal regulations, only commercial licensed drivers who are at least 21 years of age are allowed to drive semi-trucks across state lines. However, the new Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program will allow drivers as young as 18 years old to be trained to drive semi-trucks across state lines in the near future. The program was proposed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration last year to help alleviate the shortage of semi-truck drivers that has gotten worse since the Coronavirus pandemic.
Safety advocates are raising concerns about the program stating that it may put the public at great risk by allowing potentially dangerous and inexperienced drivers behind the wheel of the largest vehicles on the road. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a study conducted by the University of Michigan revealed a 500% increase in injury crashes for truck drivers younger than 21 compared to truck drivers overall.
Mark B. Stanley, semi-truck accident attorney at The Stanley Law Group, also has concerns about the program. “We all have seen what can happen when young drivers are left to make critical split-second decisions while driving the deadliest vehicles on the road. Just recently, we heard about 26-year-old Rogel Aguilera-Mederos, the truck driver who killed four people in Colorado while driving a truck and trailer carrying lumber, traveling an estimated 85 mph in an area where the speed limit for commercial vehicles is 45 mph. Prosecutors argued that Aguilera-Mederos acted recklessly and made a series of poor decisions prior to the catastrophic wreck. With an 18-year-old behind the wheel of a vehicle that weighs 80,000 pounds and is 20-30 times larger than a passenger vehicle, these types of crashes could become more frequent. That is a frightening thought.”
Attorney Mark B. Stanley continues, “We are seeing staffing shortages nationwide across many industries. Rather than fighting to lower the required age for truck drivers, the trucking and transportation industry should consider increasing salaries and benefits to truck drivers in an effort to attract skilled and safe drivers. Lowering the driving age is a cheap solution that will likely have adverse and potentially catastrophic consequences.”
The Truck Safety Coalition has also publicly objected to the program since it was first proposed, citing hazards posed by teen drivers. Despite concerns, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, signed the creation of the program into law in November 2021. The program will soon become operational, according to a notice in the Federal Register.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will issue a specific exemption to the normal age restrictions for each young driver admitted to the program. Trucks used in the program will be required to have certain safety technologies, including automatic emergency braking, forward-facing video cameras and a top speed automatically limited to 65 miles per hour. Apprentice drivers will not be allowed to drive trucks with more than one trailer or trucks carrying hazardous materials.