OOIDA voices concerns about under-21 pilot program

By Mark Schremmer, Land Line staff writer | 9/21/2016

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association questions whether a proposed pilot program is intended “to help military veterans or to fulfill the economic interests of a few larger motor carriers and a perceived driver shortage.”

OOIDA filed the formal comments on Wednesday, Sept. 21, in response to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s proposed pilot program that would allow some military veterans between the ages of 18 and 21 to operate a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce.

“OOIDA is proud to have approximately 50,000 military veterans as members of its Association and supports government initiated programs that seek to promote veterans entering the trucking profession,” the Association wrote. “OOIDA agrees that military experience often lends itself to a successful career within the industry. However, the Association has many reservations about lowering the age of drivers in order to combat a perceived driver shortage, especially when a poorly executed program could endanger all highway users, including pilot program participants.”

Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act called for the pilot program, which would last three years and allow military veterans younger than 21 years old to drive a commercial motor vehicle across state lines if they received specified heavy-vehicle training while in the military and are sponsored by a motor carrier.

Current regulations state that drivers of commercial motor vehicles engaged in interstate commerce must be at least 21 years old. The FMCSA issued a final rule in May 2011 that made 18 the minimum age to receive a commercial learner’s permit. An 18-year-old commercial learner’s permit holder is limited to driving in intrastate commerce.

OOIDA said research has shown that most drivers under the age of 21 lack the general maturity, skill and judgment necessary to handle commercial motor vehicles. However, OOIDA said it recognizes the possibility that veterans may be an exception to the research and looks forward to reviewing data associated with the program.

During the three years of the pilot program, the safety records of military veterans younger than 21 would be compared to the records of a control group of comparable size. The control group would be composed of drivers who are 21 years of age or older and who have comparable training and experience in driving vehicles requiring a commercial driver’s license. The drivers in the control group would consist of volunteers who meet specified criteria and are employed by a participating member.

The FMCSA says the comparison of the two groups’ performance would help determine whether age is a critical safety factor.

However, OOIDA “recommends that the agency clarify the standards associated with the program and include clear metrics to ensure that safety is not compromised on our nation’s highways.”

The recommendations by OOIDA include conducting a study to see if there really is a driver shortage, having the drivers in the pilot program operate only in interstate commerce, allowing drivers older than 26 to be included in the control group, removing drivers from the pilot program once they reach 21 years of age, and clarifying how long a participant must be a part of the study in order for their data to be considered in the overall evaluation.

“While OOIDA membership includes a large percentage that have proudly served in our armed forces and successfully made the transition to a civilian truck driving career, this is due to a wide variety of factors,” OOIDA wrote. “Innate skills, additional training and more all play a crucial role in a successful transition. The maturity level at which this transition occurred is a key factor which cannot be discounted.”

OOIDA cited a Federal Highway Administration study from the early 1970s, which found that most drivers under the age of 21 “lack the general maturity, skill and judgment necessary in handling commercial motor vehicles.”

“The core skills necessary to operate a commercial motor vehicle successfully have not changed since the publication of that study,” OOIDA wrote. “The Agency should take the highest level of care to create, monitor and review this pilot program which seeks to challenge decades of wisdom in order to appease the economic desires of a few.”

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