The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently approved a three-year pilot program that would allow drivers as young as 18, 19, and 20 to operate commercial motor vehicles in interstate commerce. Although advocates of the program say that the pilot program will address a national driver shortage issue, critics say that there are significant safety risks associated with the program. For example, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), motorists aged 18 and 19 are more than twice likely to be involved in a fatal truck accident compared with drivers aged 20 and older. Safety officials, and even some members of the trucking industry, have expressed concern over young, inexperienced drivers operating these massive vehicles on highways across the country.
How Does the Under-21 Commercial Driver Pilot Program Work?
In order for a motor carrier to participate in the program, the trucking company must engage in truck operations in interstate commerce. Other eligibility requirements must also be met. The FMCSA hopes to recruit a minimum of 200 participants under 21 years of age, as well as 200 control group drivers to ensure that the sample is statistically valid. Once drivers reach the age of 21, they will be replaced by new study participants who meet the age requirement. The departing drivers will have the option of participating in the control group. The FMCSA will need approximately 70 motor carriers to hire drivers for the study group, as well as control group drivers. If motor carriers can provide only study participants for one group, whether that is the study participant drivers or the control group, they may be included in the study, but priority will be given to motor carriers who can supply the same number of control group drivers as covered drivers.
Motor carriers participating in the program must meet the following eligibility requirements:
- Complete and submit the program application.
- Receive approval to participate in the program.
- Provide participants with training on Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.
- Ensure that all vehicles that are operated by study and control group drivers are installed with electronic logging devices.
- Comply with all pilot program procedures and submit monthly pilot program data reports.
- Monitor participant and control group drivers and report safety records as required by the FMCSA.
- Maintain a positive safety record based on the program criteria.
Control group drivers who wish to participate in the study must meet the following requirements:
- Must possess a valid commercial driver’s license (CDL).
- Must be between 21 and 24 years old when accepted into the pilot program for control drivers.
- Must have similar training and years of experience compared with the study group.
- Must be a full-time driver for a participating motor carrier.
- May not have any suspensions, license revocations, or disqualification within the past three years.
- May not be under any out-of-service orders.
- Must agree to sign a release of specified information.
- Must sign release forms confirming that they understand that the FMCSA will collect data on their driving history as part of the study.
Drivers who are in the study group fall into the following two categories:
- Those 18 to 20 years old who have a CDL and who operate a large truck in interstate commerce while participating in a 120-hour probationary period, as well as a subsequent 280-hour probationary period under an apprentice program.
- Those commercial truck drivers 19 and 20 years old who have operated a large truck in intrastate commerce for at least one year and 25,000 miles. Study group drivers may not operate large trucks hauling passengers, hazardous materials, or special configuration vehicles.
There are 49 states and the District of Columbia that currently allow 18- to 20-year-old commercial truck drivers to operate large commercial trucks within state lines. The pilot program will allow these drivers to cross state lines.
What Are the Benefits of the Under-21 Truck Driver Pilot Program?
Advocates of the program say the program will help address the driver shortage issue that the industry has been facing in recent years. According to the president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations (ATA), many of the men and women in the armed forces are under the age of 21, and the public trusts that these young adults are properly trained to defend the country. The under-21 population can safely and responsibly operate a large commercial vehicle with the proper training. Another spokesperson in the industry noted that it is important that the trucking industry identify new ways to connect with young drivers. Encouraging young drivers to participate in an exciting and financially rewarding industry will help recruit a new generation of talent to the trucking industry.
What Are the Safety Concerns Associated with the Pilot Program?
One of the key concerns that safety advocates have about the under-21 truck driver pilot program is the fact that teen drivers, and those under the age of 21, have poor driving records compared with older, more experienced drivers. In addition, according to Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH) and other anti-truck groups, the roads are getting more dangerous. For example, from 2009 to 2017, fatal truck accidents have increased by 41 percent, and truck occupant fatalities are higher than they have been since 1989. Considering the fact that the average commercial truck weighs approximately 80,000 pounds, while the average passenger vehicle weighs less than 3,000 pounds, truck accidents can cause devastating property damage and catastrophic, often fatal injuries, usually suffered by the occupants of the passenger vehicles. Safety advocates, and even some within the trucking industry, are concerned that putting a young, inexperienced driver behind the wheel of a massive truck would increase the risk of serious truck accidents on interstate highways across the country.
What Safety Issues Are the Most Prevalent in the Trucking Industry?
Studies show that there are a range of serious safety issues that can increase the risk of a serious truck accident. Many of these accidents can be prevented if truck drivers, employers, and other motorists follow the rules of the road and make safety a priority. The following are examples of common safety issues in the trucking industry:
- Seat belt use: Seat belts are effective at preventing serious injuries and fatalities in the event of a traffic accident. However, 14 percent of drivers say they do not always wear their seat belt.
- Unrealistic delivery deadlines: When truck drivers are under pressure to meet tight deadlines, they may be more likely to drive too fast, violate hours of service regulations, and drive while drowsy. A National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) survey found that 72 percent of drivers thought that their delivery deadlines were unrealistic.
- Unsafe driving conditions: Too often truck drivers drove during inclement weather, during heavy traffic, or when fatigued. In fact, 24 percent said that they often continued driving despite these conditions, and 47 percent said that they sometimes continued driving.
- Accidents per year: In one survey, 35 percent of truck drivers reported that they were in at least one traffic accident in their career.
- Lack of training: Close to 40 percent of truck drivers reported that they received inadequate training when they were starting out in the industry.
What Steps Can the Trucking Industry Take to Promote Safety?
Truck carriers can take the following steps to promote safety within the trucking industry and reduce the risk of devastating truck accidents:
- Adjust drivers’ schedules so that deadlines are more realistic, and drivers are less likely to violate the hours of service regulations in order to make a delivery on time.
- Make sure that drivers are aware of proper cargo securement and weight limits, and that they always practice safe driving techniques.
- Ensure that truck drivers always avoid drowsy, drunk, or distracted driving.
- Provide the appropriate training for all entry-level truck drivers.
- Ensure that people in leadership positions are committed to driver safety programs.
- Promote seat belt use in all training and safety meetings, and make sure that this requirement is being enforced.
What Are Common Truck Accident Injuries?
When young, inexperienced drivers are behind the wheel of a large commercial truck, there may be an increased risk of a truck accident occurring. Unfortunately, these accidents are known for causing severe, often fatal injuries. The following are examples of common truck accident injuries:
- Back and neck injuries
- Broken bones
- Cuts and lacerations
- Head injuries
- Internal injuries
- Rib and torso injuries
- Spinal cord injuries
- Traumatic brain injuries
Los Angeles Catastrophic Injury Lawyers at ACTS Law Represent Victims of Truck Accidents
If you have been seriously injured in a truck accident, do not hesitate to contact the Los Angeles catastrophic injury lawyers at ACTS Law. We understand how devastating these accidents can be, particularly for the occupants of the passenger vehicles involved. We will conduct a thorough investigation into the details of the accident and determine who is liable for your injuries. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 833-ACTS-LAW or contact us online.
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