Late last year, Congress passed its $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, which contained several provisions pertinent to the highway transportation industry and motor carriers specifically. In a prior article, we addressed how those provisions will impact trucking in 2022 and beyond.
One of the more significant components of that bill was the Drive Safe Act, which, among other things, requires the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to stand up an apprenticeship program that would open the door to 18-20 year olds to operate commercial motor vehicles in interstate commerce under certain conditions. Currently, the federal rules require commercial drivers to be at least 21 years old to operate in interstate commerce, though many states allow younger drivers to operate exclusively within their borders.
The FMCSA has now taken the first step in establishing its apprenticeship pilot program framework by publishing an emergency request for the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to approve an information request pertaining to the program. Specifically, the FMCSA is requesting permission to begin collecting data from eventual motor carrier pilot program participants in order to report the following to Congress:
The findings and conclusions on the ability of technologies or training provided to apprentices as part of the pilot program to successfully improve safety;
An analysis of the safety record of participating apprentices as compared to other CMV drivers;
The number of drivers that discontinued participation in the apprenticeship program before completion;
A comparison of the safety records of participating drivers before, during, and after each probationary period; and
A comparison of each participating driver’s average on-duty time, driving time, and time spent away from home terminal before, during, and after each probationary period.
According to the agency, "FMCSA will monitor the monthly data being reported by the motor carriers and will identify drivers or carriers that may pose a risk to public safety," so that it can remove them from the program as needed. The agency is now seeking public comments on this request, which can be submitted online at regulations.gov under docket number FMCSA- 2022-0002.
Apprenticeship Pilot Program Details
While the FMCSA is in the early stages of developing the pilot program, its recent notice and the infrastructure bill give us some details on how it will function. First, we know that 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.
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.
Motor carriers who wish to participate in the program must be approved and will have to make monthly reports to the agency, including on things like incidents and crashes. Additionally, according to the FMCSA's notice, "FMCSA and the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Agency (DOL/ETA) will be partnering in the implementation of the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program. All motor carriers who are approved for the program by FMCSA will also be required to become Registered Apprenticeships (RAs) under 29 CFR part 29 before they can submit information on their experienced drivers and apprentices. The information collection burden for the DOL/ETA RA Program can be found in approved ICR 1205-0223."
The full FMCSA information collection request notice is available at this link.
While we wait for more details from the FMCSA, Trucksafe will be working with carriers who wish to participate by working to develop key policies and records to ensure the operations are conducted safely and in accordance with the FMCSA's rules. For more details, please contact us.