Driver safety is changing. How will the DRIVE-Safe Act, the Under 21 Military CDL Pilot Program, the Entry-Level Driver Training Rule, and CDL Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse affect your fleet?
There is a tug-of-war going on in Congress. Our congresspeople and government agencies are attempting to walk a delicate balance between the shortage of quality drivers available on the market and driver safety.
Though the bureaucratic process is often lamented, no change happens in a vacuum. Industry feedback and public comment are essential to avoiding hasty decisions that could cause unforeseen damage. We just may want more drivers on the road, dammit! But are we willing to sacrifice public safety and a base standard of professionalism just to do it?
Let’s break down the four most important pieces of legislation regarding driver safety in the trucking industry. We’ll review the DRIVE-Safe Act and the Under 21 Military CDL Pilot Program in this post. In part 2, we’ll review the Entry-Level Driver Training Rule and the new CDL Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse.
The DRIVE-Safe Act
Simply put, the DRIVE-Safe Act is a bill being discussed in Congress that would lower the interstate driving age for commercial drivers.
The DRIVE-Safe Act was devised to make the trucking industry younger on the whole. It would open up a two-part apprenticeship program for 18- to 20-year-olds with a CDL to operate interstate commerce, with conditions. The first part of the program would be a 120-hour probationary period including at least 80 driving hours. Upon passage of this first leg, a second 280-hour probationary period would begin. This probationary period requires at least 160 hours of driving in a commercial vehicle. Each of these probationary periods would include restrictions and performance benchmarks.
In the 120-hour period, it would be up to the employer to determine several things. These include whether the young driver has competency not only to operate on interstate highways, but also to operate in a city, on a rural two-lane road, and at night. Employers would assess the apprentice’s safety awareness, his or her ability to manage speed and space management, directional control of the vehicle within the lane, proper scanning of mirrors, proper turning, and compliance and logging of hours of service.
During the 280-hour period, different performance benchmarks would be tracked. These include backing and maneuvering, pre-trip checks, fueling, weighing loads, weight distribution and sliding tandems, coupling and uncoupling, turning, and trip planning.
These probationary periods also come with certain restrictions. The apprentice has to be accompanied by an experienced driver during both probationary periods. No hazardous materials can be hauled. The vehicle has to be either an automatic or Automatic Manual Transmission with an active braking system (automatic emergency braking) and a forward-facing camera. A speed governor would also be required that would limit the vehicle to no more than 65 mph.
Despite a thoughtful curriculum and performance benchmarks, this bill faces a tough road ahead.
“We have been down this road before in trucking,” says expert Dave Osiecki. “Thus far, it’s been a dead end. Safety has been an ongoing concern about not being able to access 18-, 19-, 20-year-old drivers. This time around, will the additional safety technology and speed governing on the truck be enough to get us over the safety concerns and data [from previous studies]?”
Under 21 Military CDL Pilot Program
Back in 2015, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) was directed by Congress to institute a pilot program for members or former members of the armed forces under 21 years of age. This is the Under 21 Military CDL Pilot Program. Participants should be qualified (had training) in a military occupational specialty to operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) or similar. The obstacle the FMCSA faces here is finding enough people that fit within this narrow category. It’s seeking at least 200 drivers that fit into this category for the program’s launch. The program is to run for about a year, after which an initial interim report to Congress will be submitted in mid 2020. Data collection will continue through 2022, culminating in a final report in 2023.
Osecki reports that there is also some consideration within the DOT and FMCSA to open the pilot beyond military, former military, and reservists to include all types of younger individuals not necessarily tied to the industry. In this case, the DOT has the authority to conduct its own pilot program without congressional direction.
The idea behind the program ultimately is to collect data. And if that data is favorable, it could move forward with rule-making to change the driving age. Again though, it would be some time before that outcome could be reached.