Why the Young Driver Apprenticeship Program Could Be Key to the Future of Trucking – Guest Voices

A recent ATRI study found the technology is appealing to young drivers – and the new learner program requires the use of multiple safety technologies.

Photo: Gordon Hanson

America is currently facing a severe shortage of truck drivers. The American Trucking Associations estimates that in 2021, the United States needed about 80,000 more truck drivers to meet demand, a record high. On the current trajectory, that number could more than double to more than 160,000 by 2030. And because trucks carry more than 72% of US freight, the shortage of drivers is also impacting the entire chain. American supply.

There is no quick fix to this problem. A variety of complex factors have contributed to the driver shortage, including an aging workforce, wage issues and the under-representation of women, not to mention the challenges inherent in the job itself.

Just as there is no single cause for this problem, there is no single solution. But a new federal program could help solve a crucial problem: safely recruiting and training 18- to 20-year-olds to become the next generation of interstate truckers before they seek employment in other industries. .

Closing the gap on a key talent pool

In all US states except Hawaii, individuals 18 years of age or older can obtain an intrastate commercial driver’s license to drive trucks within state lines. But due to long-standing federal regulations (some aspects of which predate the creation of the Interstate Highway System), truck drivers under the age of 21 are not allowed to cross state lines.

This federal restriction no longer makes sense in today’s world. In effect, this means young truckers are allowed to drive hundreds of miles within a state, but can only drive a few miles across a state line or even touch interstate freight.

“Because of this limitation, the most valuable jobs – and the most sought after amenities that come with them – are not available to 18 to 20 year olds, who will then typically opt for another career path,” says Nick. Geale, vice president of labor policy at the ATA. By the time these individuals reach the age of 21 and are eligible to obtain an interstate CDL, they have pursued careers in other industries.

Wisconsin-based freight hauler Kreilkamp Trucking has seen firsthand the effects of this labor shortage.

“Every year we lose a generation of young people to other career paths,” says Corporate Security Director Brad Penneau. “From the time an 18-year-old is eligible for a CDL until he turns 21 and is eligible to drive on the highway, he’s had three years to explore different career paths. “

This helps explain why in 2019, the average age of new truck drivers entering the industry was 35, and the average age of truck drivers in the United States was 46 – and those numbers didn’t matter. only getting worse since then. The federal age requirement of 21 deters young drivers from exploring careers in trucking and, in turn, presents a major driver recruitment challenge for interstate carriers. Given the average age of U.S. truck drivers and the lack of a pool of young drivers, drivers are leaving the profession faster than they are being replaced by new talent, compounding the shortage.

The bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill, signed into law in November, focused on this issue by mandating the creation of a federal pilot program to allow 18- to 20-year-olds to drive trucks on interstate highways. Earlier this year, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration officially announced the program. The three-year Learn to Ride Safe pilot program will allow as many as 3,000 young truckers, with state-issued CDLs and clean records, to participate in 400 hours of training, operate trucks across state lines under the direct supervision of an experienced driver in the passenger seat.

Once a learner driver has completed 400 hours of training, they will be allowed to drive the highway on their own, but will still be considered part of the learner program until they reach the age of 21. In effect, this means that the carrier employing the learner driver will be required to comply with the program’s reporting requirements until the driver has reached the age of 21. This will help ensure that carriers are properly incentivized to continue providing quality learner driver training after successful completion of the 400-hour training requirement and provide more learner safety data to the FMCSA.

This new program is not a short-term solution, but rather a long-term investment. Overall, it’s about helping trucking companies bridge the gap to safely attract, recruit and train the next generation of truckers at a critical age, before they pursue another career.

“This program will allow us to begin to tap into this group of young workers and train and develop this talent — like any other employer does,” says Penneau.

The role of technology in the next generation of drivers

Critics of the apprenticeship program have raised safety concerns, noting that it allows teenage drivers to get behind the wheel of some of the biggest vehicles on the road – large interstate tractor-trailers. But this review apparently ignores the fact that 18- to 20-year-olds are already allowed to drive these vehicles in 49 states and the District of Columbia, with less training required than this new program provides. Additionally, a newly licensed 21-year-old is allowed to drive such vehicles across state lines without any of the additional 400 hours of training or safety equipment required by the pilot program.

“We are training young people of the same age to go to war. It’s all about training,” says Todd Boldin, director of safety and former driver at US Logistics Solutions, a Texas-based trucking company that plans to apply for the apprenticeship program. “The technology and training requirements outlined by this program are more than sufficient to allow us to properly train these young drivers and weed out people who shouldn’t be behind the wheel of a truck.

In addition to 400 hours of probationary training alongside an experienced driver, the apprenticeship program requires that all vehicles driven by apprentices have certain safety technologies, including automated manual transmissions, collision mitigation systems with active braking, forward- and inward-facing cameras, and a regulated speed of 65 mph.

According to Geale, “Along with the technology and training requirements, this program should produce the safest cohort of young drivers ever deployed in the trucking industry.”

Indeed, technology will play a key role in training the next generation of drivers. Trucking is one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States, but advances in vehicle safety technologies, such as dash cameras and other advanced driver assistance systems, are making it more sure.

Mr. Penneau de Kreilkamp says it is this type of technology that gives him confidence in the success of this pilot program. “There are a lot of concerns about whether 18 to 20 year olds are mature enough. If it was 20 or 25 years ago, I probably wouldn’t be in favor of this program. But with today’s technology ‘today we can train those drivers safely.His company saw a 95% decrease in dangerous occurrences per thousand kilometers – a key metric it uses to measure driver safety – in one year after rolling out Dashboard cameras, which are one of the safety technologies required by the learning program.

“With a driver-facing camera, carriers have more visibility into in-cab safety,” says Keith Frantz, DOT manager at Archer Daniels Midland, a large Illinois-based trucking company, who plans to apply. in the apprenticeship program. “As a result, a carrier can train young drivers on risky behaviors as soon as they are still in their nascent stage, before they become ingrained daily habits.”

This technology comes with an important balance between security and privacy. But as safety technologies advance and become more widespread and better understood by drivers and carriers—and as the demographics of the driver workforce change—driver attitudes toward safety cabin technology is also evolving. According to Boldin, in his experience, “young drivers are less stressed and less worried about having these new safety technologies in the cabin.”

One piece of a complicated puzzle

This is the largest pilot program ever run by FMCSA. The data it produces over the next three years will determine whether the age requirement for interstate trucking is changed, either by FMCSA regulatory action or congressional legislation.

There is, of course, much more work to be done to address the driver shortage, including improving the driver experience, reducing barriers for women, and beyond. As many industry players have pointed out, even the best recruiting efforts will be wasted if they are not coupled with broader changes. But this program is a step in the right direction – a way to invest in the next generation of drivers while supporting them with training and safety technology to set them up for success from the start.

Caitlyn Chacon - Photo: Samsara

Caitlyn Chacon

Photo: Samsara

Caitlyn Chacon is a senior counsel with the legal and policy teams at Samsara Inc. Samsara’s Connected Operations Cloud enables businesses that rely on physical operations to leverage IoT (Internet of Things) data to develop actionable business insights and improve their operations. It also offers its AI Dash Cam. Chacon helps Samsara manage regulatory issues and shape the company’s public policy priorities.

This article has been written and edited to HDT editorial standards and style to provide useful information to our readers. Opinions expressed may not reflect those of HDT.

Ryan H. Bowman