EAST PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) – A proposed program by federal officials could lead to more young drivers behind the wheels of semi-trucks.
Under current law, only those 21 and older are allowed to cross state lines while driving a semi-truck. Now, with the country facing a shortage of thousands of drivers and supply chain challenges, a proposed apprenticeship program could change that.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration would oversee the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program.
Through the apprenticeship, truck drivers aged 18-20 would be allowed to cross state lines during their 120-hour probationary period or 280-hour probation. Conditions of the program include requiring a seasoned driver to be in the passenger seat, trucks must be equipped with forward-facing cameras and electronic braking systems, and speeds cannot exceed 65 MPH.
Following the probationary period, the driver must continue to be monitored by the employing motor carrier, including monthly safety performance reports filed with FMCSA, until the driver reaches the age of 21.
Ken Baker, a truck driving instructor at Illinois Central College, said that the extra measures are helpful but having experience is important.
“Having that apprenticeship program gives them the idea, OK I’m going to be with somebody that knows what to do, how to do it, and how to react to each situation. But each situation they get into being that young is going to be different from what another person, or how another person would react,” Baker said.
Baker added that there are teens capable of handling a semi, but unfamiliar driving conditions may pose a risk.
“So, if we go through the mountains and we have an 18-year-old driving in the snow with a fully loaded trailer, are we going to know what to do when that situation arises,” Baker said.
He also said even seasoned drivers can run into unfamiliar or new scenarios, but years of building instincts help in those situations.
According to the American Trucking Association, there was a shortage of more than 80,000 drivers in 2021.