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Legislators Aiming to Encourage the Youth to Take the Wheel

In 2022, as mandated by the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) launched the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program (SDAP). This three-year initiative was conceived with a dual purpose: to introduce young individuals aged 18, 19, and 20 to the world of interstate trucking careers and to aid trucking companies in the recruitment and training of new drivers.

The genesis of this program lies in addressing a pressing issue – the shortage of truck drivers in the United States. As things stand, the trucking industry grapples with a deficit exceeding 78,000 truck drivers, all while needing to bring on board 1.2 million fresh drivers within the next decade to meet the surging freight demands, as underscored by the American Trucking Associations (ATA).

Under the framework of SDAP, a maximum of 3,000 drivers can be active participants at any given time. However, it’s worth noting that program enrollment has fallen far short of expectations, with less than a dozen individuals enrolling. This underperformance can be attributed to additional requirements imposed by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) that were not originally encompassed in the initial legislation.

Young commercial truckers can look forward to a successful trucking carrer depending on their skills and specialization

To realign SDAP and restore its effectiveness, Congressmen Rick Crawford (R-Arkansas) and Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) have taken proactive steps. They have strongly urged the DOT to implement corrective measures aimed at enhancing participation in SDAP. Additionally, they have mandated that the DOT provide Congress with comprehensive reports detailing the program’s status and the specific remedial actions undertaken to boost participation.

These crucial changes instruct the Secretary of Transportation to proceed with formulating regulations allowing 18- to 20-year-old commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers to operate across state lines. This can occur provided that the data does not indicate a lower level of safety among participants in the IIJA pilot program compared to other CMV drivers.

ATA President and CEO Chris Spear emphasized the significance of these developments in advancing the trucking industry. He highlighted that building a 21st-century supply chain hinges on having a robust and growing trucking workforce. 

These updates are poised to facilitate fresh career pathways into interstate trucking, all while championing safety and training standards that surpass current state benchmarks.

The efforts led by Congressmen Crawford and Cuellar offer a timely and indispensable solution for the trucking workforce and supply chain. By directing the DOT to restore the program’s original intent and providing a pathway for the safe integration of new talent into the industry, this bill ensures that the trucking sector has the talent needed to meet the escalating freight demands of the economy in the years ahead.