A shortage of truck drivers is one of the long-term supply-chain problems impacting the furniture industry. And it’s why the Home Furnishings Association supports a proposed pilot program aimed at bringing younger drivers into the profession.
The Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration recently announced plans to study the feasibility of allowing drivers aged 18, 19 and 20, who have commercial driver’s licenses, to haul freight across state lines. Currently, 49 states allow younger drivers to operate only within their borders.
Rob Davis, president of HFA member Diakon Logistics, fully supports exploring the idea.
“This pilot program is exactly what we need to attract younger drivers to an industry with demand trends exceeding supply trends,” said Davis, a member of HFA’s Government Relations Action Team. “This program will also help analyze and validate the safety of younger drivers, not only to qualify them, but to give them experience necessary to begin a career in transportation when they are in search of an opportunity.”
Delivery drivers don’t need commercial driver’s licenses. And some retail members of the HFA don’t hire drivers younger than 21 even for intrastate routes. But almost all feel the pinch of the driver shortage.
Average age of drivers rises to 56
The need for younger drivers is acute in a field where, according to the FMCSA, the average age has risen to 56.
“Let’s be honest,” FMCSA Deputy Administrator Wiley Deck said in a recent call with industry representatives. “This is a tough job. A tough job. What do we do to engage these kids who aren’t going to college but need a good-paying job?”
FMSCA is accepting public comments on its proposal. The HFA plans to submit comments and urges its members to do so, too.
The pilot program would be an important fact-gathering exercise because states aren’t collecting data about younger truck drivers operating on their roads, Deck said.
“Let’s get that information. Maybe we find out these guys aren’t safe,” he said. “Maybe. But nobody has concrete data. Until we do, nobody can say yea or nay to this.”
Pilot program standards will be stringent
As proposed, the pilot program would set standards more stringent than what 49 states currently require, the American Trucking Associations contended in supporting the initiative.
Participants would have to fall within two categories: 1) 18-to-20-year-old commercial driver’s license holders who operate commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) in interstate commerce while taking part in a 120-hour probationary period and a subsequent 280-hour probationary period under an apprenticeship program established by an employer; or 2) 19- and 20-year-old commercial drivers who have operated CMVs in intrastate commerce for a minimum of one year and 25,000 miles. The study group drivers would not be allowed to operate vehicles hauling passengers or hazardous materials or special-configuration vehicles, the agency said.
“This action will allow the agency to carefully examine the safety, feasibility and possible economic benefits of allowing 18-to-20-year-old drivers to operate in interstate commerce. Safety is always FMCSA’s top priority, so we encourage drivers, motor carriers and interested citizens to review this proposed new pilot program and share their thoughts and opinions,” Deck said in an FMCSA news release.
The pilot program proposal includes numerous provisions relating to:
- Driving limitations for study group drivers.
- Training and experience requirements for study group drivers.
- Vehicle safety technology for study group drivers.
- Motor carrier qualification requirements.
- Motor carrier application and participation requirements.
Agency seeks answers to specific questions
In its request for comments, the agency poses these questions:
- Should FMCSA consider any additional safeguards to ensure that the pilot program provides an equivalent level of safety to the regulations without the age exemption?
- Would carriers be able to obtain enough drivers to serve in the control group?
- Would the vehicle technology requirements proposed for the study group drivers limit participation by smaller companies?
- Should FMCSA limit the distance that study group drivers would be allowed to operate (e.g., 150 air-mile radius, 250 air-mile radius)?
- Are the data collection efforts proposed so burdensome for carriers as to discourage their participation?
- Should we limit participation to drivers who have not been involved in a preventable crash?
In-state routes can stretch hundreds of miles
The agency noted that state regulations allow young drivers to cover very long distances, such as Houston to El Paso in Texas (745 miles) or Tallahassee to Miami in Florida (483 miles). The same drivers can’t make shorter hauls across a state line.
The limitation is due for reconsideration, the HFA and other industry groups say.
“For years, ATA has made the case to the Transportation Department and lawmakers that trucking can safely bring these younger professional drivers into our industry fully,” American Trucking Associations Executive Vice President for Advocacy Bill Sullivan said. “With strong support from both sides of the aisle and on and off the Hill, it is clear that moving forward with a pilot program is an important step to bringing 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds into our industry safely and responsibly.”
Deck said he hopes that 80 or more carriers will agree to participate in the pilot program, if it launches. However, that likely would not happen until late 2021 or early 2022.
How to submit comments
The agency invites comments on docket number FMCSA-2018-0346 using any of the following methods:
- Federal e-Rulemaking Portal: www.regulations.gov. Follow the online instructions for submitting comments.
- Mail: Docket Operations, U.S. Department of Transportation, 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE., West Building, Ground Floor, Room W12-140, Washington, DC 20590-0001.
- Hand delivery or courier: West Building, Ground Floor, Room W12-140, 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE., between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, except federal holidays.
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