The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is crossing off the last item on its “to do” list ahead of launching its under-21 military driver pilot program.
The agency published a Federal Register notice that it's ready for White House clearance to proceed with the pilot program. That notice published Nov. 27.
The agency plans a three-year pilot program. The program puts the performance of 18- to 20-year-olds with military truck driving experience up against 21- 24-year-olds. The agency will collect data on crashes, moving and inspection violations, and safety-critical events.
The goal is to help determine how training and experience affect the safety of the 18- to 20-year-old driving population.
The public has until Dec. 28 to file comments on the final plan. After that, the agency will submit the program request to the White House in hopes of a green light. (Editor’s note: Currently the notice is listed in the Federal Register under epilepsy and seizure disorders. Regulations.gov reflects that same listing.)
Proceed with caution
While supportive of job opportunities for U.S. military veterans, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association urges caution.
“OOIDA is proud to have approximately 50,000 military veterans as members and supports government initiated programs that 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, we have some reservations about lowering the age of drivers to address a perceived driver shortage.”
ATA and others continue to talk about the trucking industry facing a driver shortage. OOIDA contends that the problem has to do with large fleets’ inability to retain drivers. A recent report from the ATA said the turnover rate for large truckload carriers was 94 percent.
Without a shortage, there appears to be little justification for reducing the general age requirement.
“Previous research has shown that most drivers under the age of 21 lack the general maturity, skill and judgment that is necessary in handling commercial motor vehicles,” OOIDA wrote. “While military experience may offset these scientific findings, the structure of the proposed pilot program will make it difficult to determine safety performance of under-21 veteran drivers compared to the rest of the industry.”
OOIDA said of the shortcomings of the program include the small size of the study groups, and a slant toward large carriers. The Association also suggested that the program’s data should be evaluated by an independent third party.
“Any findings from this pilot program should only be used to infer the success or failure within the scope of veteran drivers,” OOIDA wrote. “The results should not be applied to any broader efforts at lowering the minimum driving age.”
Associate Editor Mark Schremmer contributed to this article.
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