In a notice posted to the Federal Register on January 13, 2022, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration offered details about its Congressionally-mandated driver apprenticeship pilot program (the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program), which is expected to open to interested parties in the coming weeks. As discussed in our prior articles, the apprenticeship program will open the door to certain 18-21 year olds to operate commercial motor vehicles in interstate commerce. Under current rules, drivers must be at least 21 years old to be qualified to operate in interstate commerce; however, many states allow younger drivers to operate exclusively within their borders. Participants in the apprenticeship program will be authorized to operate in interstate commerce, assuming they comply with the standards set by the FMCSA. So here's what we know based on the FMCSA's notice:
The apprenticeship program will be open to 3,000 participating apprentices and around 1,000 participating motor carriers.
According to the agency, motor carriers that wish to participate in the program will be required to complete an application for participation, which we expect to be available on the FMCSA's website once the Office of Management & Budget approves its pending request to gather information. The federal legislation that paved the way for this program limits participation to no more than 3,000 apprentices. The agency explains in its notice that additional apprentices will be needed to account for turnover. That said, the agency intends to process carrier applications and will approve only those carriers the agency believes have demonstrated sufficient safety management controls and which meet the following criteria:
Must have proper operating authority, if required, and registration;
Must have at least the minimum levels of financial responsibility required by the FMCSRs;
Must not be a high or moderate risk motor carrier as defined in the Agency’s Federal Register notice titled, “Notification of Changes to the Definition of a High Risk Motor Carrier and Associated Investigation” published on March 7, 2016 (81 FR 11875);
Must not have a conditional or unsatisfactory safety rating;
Must not have any open enforcement actions (e.g., Imminent Hazard, Operations Out-of-Service (OOS) Orders, Patterns of Safety Violations) in the previous 6 years;
Must not have a crash rate above the national average;
Must not have a driver OOS rate above the national average; and
Must not have a vehicle OOS rate above the national average.
Carriers who do not meet this criteria are unable to participate. Approval to participate will also be contingent on the carrier's agreement to comply with the program's monthly reporting requirement. Once approved, the carrier will be issued a letter acknowledging approval and will be publicly announced on the FMCSA's website. Approved carriers can subsequently be removed if they fail to meet the standards listed above.
According to the agency, it will " prioritize approval of carriers to participate and continue based on these carriers’ safety performance records over time, selecting only those with the highest or best relative performance."
Participating carriers must also register an apprenticeship program with the Department of Labor.
The Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program is a joint effort between the FMCSA and the DOL. Accordingly, in addition to seeking approval from the FMCSA, interested carriers must also register their program with the DOL in accordance with the regulations found at 29 CFR Part 29. According to FMCSA, carriers do not have to have already registered with the DOL prior to completing an application with the FMCSA, but must work to do so.
Apprentices must meet minimum standards to qualify and must be approved by the FMCSA.
Once a carrier receives FMCSA approval to begin hiring apprentices, it must ensure that the apprentices meet the minimum qualifications applicable to regulated drivers. Drivers who have held more than one license, had a license suspended, revoked or cancelled, had a conviction for a violation of a traffic law (other than parking) arising in connection with any accident, or have been convicted of any of the following violations are not eligible to participate:
Had been under the influence of alcohol as prescribed by State law;
Had been under the influence of a controlled substance;
Had an alcohol concentration of 0.04 or greater while operating a CMV;
Refused to take an alcohol test as required by a State under its implied consent laws or regulations as defined in 49 CFR 383.72;
Left the scene of a crash;
Used the vehicle to commit a felony;
Drove a CMV while his or her CDL is revoked, suspended, cancelled; or he or she is disqualified from operating a CMV;
Caused a fatality through the negligent operation of a CMV (including motor vehicle manslaughter, homicide by motor vehicle, or negligent homicide);
Had more than one conviction for any of the violations described below in any type of motor vehicle;
Drove recklessly, as defined by State or local law or regulation (including offenses of driving a motor vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property);
Drove a CMV without the required CDL;
Violated a State or local law or ordinance on motor vehicle traffic control prohibiting texting while driving; or
Violated a State or local law or ordinance on motor vehicle traffic control restricting or prohibiting the use of a hand held mobile telephone while driving.
If at any time while participating in the pilot program, an apprentice is disqualified for a major offense, serious traffic violations, railroad-highway grade crossing violation, or violation of an out-of-service order, as outlined in 49 CFR 383.51 of the FMCSRs, he or she will be disqualified and removed from the program.
Participating carriers must also notify the FMCSA of each apprentice that it hires, at which point the FMCSA "will review the driver's safety performance history against its systems and will issue an exemption for each driver." This exemption will allow the drivers to operate in interstate commerce while participating in the program despite being under 21 and having a "K" restriction (i.e., intrastate-only) on his/her CDL. Importantly, approved apprentices are not eligible to transport passengers (other than an experienced driver, as detailed below) or hazardous materials, or operate double- or triple-trailer combinations or cargo tank vehicles, even if they were to hold the necessary endorsements to do so.
The agency will monitor carrier and driver performance throughout the pilot program and may take action to remove particular carriers and/or drivers when warranted.
Approved apprentices must complete two probationary periods under the supervision of an experienced driver.
According to the underlying legislation and the FMCSA's notice, apprentices will have to complete two probationary periods under the direct supervision of an experienced driver. An "experienced driver" is one who is at least 26 years old, holds a valid CDL and has held one for at least 2 years, and has at least 5 years worth of interstate commercial driving experience. Additionally, the "experienced driver" must not have had any of the following in the 2 years prior to serving as an experienced driver: (1) preventable DOT-recordable accidents; or (2) pointed moving violations.
The first probationary period will be 120 hours of on-duty time (at least 80 of which must be driving) in length, during which the motor carrier must evaluate the apprentice on the following:
Interstate, city traffic, rural 2-lane, and evening driving;
Speed and space management;
Right and left turns; and
Logging and complying with rules relating to hours of service.
The second probationary period will be 280 hours of on-duty time (at least 160 of which must be driving) in length, during which the motor carrier will evaluate the apprentice on the following:
Backing and maneuvering in close quarters;
Weighing loads, weight distribution, and sliding tandems;
Coupling and uncoupling procedures; and
Trip planning, truck routes, map reading, navigation, and permits.
Assuming the apprentice successfully completes both probationary periods, he/she will then be permitted to operate in interstate commerce unaccompanied.
Participating carriers must ensure apprentice vehicles are equipped with certain CMV technologies.
According to the notice, during both probationary periods, the motor carrier must ensure each apprentice only drives a CMV that "has an automatic manual or automatic transmission; an active braking collision mitigation system; a forward-facing video event capture system; and a governed speed of 65 miles per hour at the pedal and under adaptive cruise control." Additionally, the apprentice must be accompanied in the passenger seat of the CMV by an experienced driver.
Participating carriers must make monthly reports to the FMCSA.
As a condition to participating in the pilot program, motor carriers must agree to make monthly reports to the FMCSA covering the apprentice’s driver activity (e.g., vehicle miles traveled, duty hours, driving hours, off-duty time, or breaks), safety outcomes (e.g., crashes, violations, and safety-critical events), and any additional supporting information (e.g., onboard monitoring systems or investigative reports from previous crashes). In addition, carriers will be required to notify FMCSA within 24 hours of: (1) any injury or fatal crash involving an apprentice; (2) an apprentice receiving an alcohol-related citation in any vehicle (e.g., driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated); (3) an apprentice choosing to leave the pilot program; (4) an apprentice leaving the carrier; or (5) an apprentice failing a random or post-crash drug/alcohol test. Carriers must also obtain consent from participating drivers to release this type of information to the FMCSA.
If an apprentice is involved in a reportable, preventable crash or receives a pointed moving violation while driving a CMV, the apprentice must undergo remediation and additional training until the apprentice can demonstrate, to the satisfaction of the motor carrier, competence in each of the performance benchmarks. The extent of remediation and additional training will be left to the discretion of the employing motor carrier. FMCSA will clarify the standards for remediation and additional training on its website once the Agency begins accepting applications for the pilot program.
Carriers wishing to participate in the pilot program need to start taking steps to ensure they meet the minimum qualification standards and will be ready to submit the required application once the FMCSA posts it to its website. Trucksafe Consulting has developed a Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program compliance package for motor carriers, containing important documents to help carriers implement such a program, such as a program policy, apprentice releases, instructor qualification form, reporting spreadsheet, incident report, assessment forms, and a coupon code for 15% off Trucksafe's innovate online USDOT compliance courses through Trucksafe Academy, which are perfect for carriers to train new drivers on their regulatory obligations. Check out the compliance package at the link below, or contact us for additional details.