Pilot program could see 18-year-old truck drivers cleared for interstate trips

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. regulators are taking a key step toward a pilot program that would see truck drivers as young as 18 operating commercial motor vehicles for interstate commerce.

While CDL holders under the age of 21 can drive trucks in 49 states and the District of Columbia, their trips between jurisdictions are restricted. For example, the younger drivers can complete a trip between Houston and El Paso, Texas, but not complete an extended journey across several states.

Public comments about the proposal are now being collected by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

The pilot project would be limited to 18-20-year-old CDL holders taking part in a 120-hour probationary period and subsequent 280-hour apprenticeship program established by an employer, or 19-20-year-old commercial drivers who have operated in intrastate commerce for at least one year and 40,000 km. Participants wouldn’t be allowed to operate vehicles transporting passengers, haul hazardous materials, or operate special configurations.

The idea was first proposed in May 2019, as regulators began to ask questions about the required training, qualifications, driving limitations, insurance, and vehicle safety systems, among other topics.

“This is a significant step toward improving safety on our nation’s roads, setting a standard for these drivers that is well beyond what 49 states currently require,” American Trucking Associations (ATA) president and CEO Chris Spear said on Friday in a bulletin for members.

“The pilot program would require drivers to meet safety and skill requirements far and above current standards.”

They won’t be the first young drivers cleared for interstate commerce. The latest proposal builds on a similar project unveiled in July 2018, which involves 18-to-20-year-olds who completed heavy vehicle training while in the U.S. military.

Research by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration supports the idea that younger drivers can be safe. In the years 2012-17 studied for Traffic Safety Facts: A Compilation of Motor Vehicle Crash Data, male drivers from 16-20 had a lower involvement in fatal crashes than those from the ages of 21-24. However, an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) look at 2017 data found that drivers aged 18-19 were 2.3 times more likely than those 20 and older to be in a fatal crash.

Interest in allowing younger drivers hasn’t been limited to the U.S.

Quebec has trained hundreds of youth in pilot projects of its own, and is currently preparing legislation that will allow truck drivers as young as 18. That legislation is expected to come into effect this fall.

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Trimble tool holds truckers accountable

SUNNYVALE, Calif. – Collecting data is the easy part, but the information is useful only if we can analyze and make sense of it to reduce risks.

That was the message at a Trimble Transportation webinar Wednesday on using analytics to elevate driver compliance, safety and accountability. The session was held on the third day of Trimble’s virtual user conference.

Senior product manager Mike Soricelli said what matters is how can we turn the data into actionable items to increase safety.

“With many data points available, it can be difficult to determine what data is useful and how to confidently analyze it to make effective decisions,” he said.

Soricelli said Trimble’s Video Intelligence and Safety Analytics portal simplifies big data so fleets can properly coach and hold drivers accountable on speeding, behavior, hours-of-service (HoS) compliance and fatigue.

He said the platform has the ability to import various data inputs into an easy-to-read dashboard, making it simpler for fleets to identify potential risks, whether it is related to driver behavior or fatigue.

And speaking of fatigue, Soricelli said Trimble has partnered with Pulsar Informatics to deliver a fatigue monitoring and risk management solution.

He said Pulsar has done work for the U.S. space agency NASA, and also has a project going right now with the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

The FMCSA estimates that driver fatigue may be an associated factor in 13% of accidents involving commercial trucks.

“Eighteen hours without sleep is like having a blood alcohol content of 0.05. That is crazy when you think about it,” Soricelli said.

“So, when you think about the amount of time drivers spend on the road and how much sleep they are getting, fatigue definitely plays a significant factor into that driver behavior.”

The Trimble portal constantly monitors and updates driver fatigue, and that information is available in real time to carriers, he said.

The portal also offers a printable driver scorecard, which Soricelli said is a great way to establish key performance indicators.

The Trimble analytics tools are optional. They can be customized to fit the needs of all fleet sizes, Soricelli said.

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