Congress loosens restrictions on teenage truckers to help with supply chain breakdowns

The federal government is moving forward with a plan to let teenagers drive big rigs from state to state in a test program. Currently, truckers who cross state lines must be at least 21 years old, but an apprenticeship program required by Congress to help ease supply chain backlogs would let 18-to-20-year-old truckers drive outside their home states.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A new test program by the federal government is allowing 18 to 20-year-olds behind the wheel to drive big rigs from state to state. Before the program, truckers had to be at least 21-years-old to cross state lines, but this is an exception.

“There’s going to be accidents. That’s just the fact of it,” said Eric Cane, truck driver.

This program is intended to help with the truck driver shortage.

U.S. Xpress, one of the nation’s largest truckload carriers, said the industry needs at least 80,000 new truckers. It lost 6% of its workers since the pandemic began and struggles with recruitment.

“It’s a lot more freight for us. It’s hard out there definitely-- at this point it’s overwhelming,” Harrington added.

“If there’s such a shortage of truck drivers, why can’t we find places to park. I just don’t believe it,” said Cane.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has specific rules for applicants:

  • No previous driving while impaired violations
  • No traffic tickets for causing a crash

Under the apprenticeship, younger drivers can cross state lines during 120-hour and 280-hour probationary periods, as long as an experienced driver is in the passenger seat. Trucks used in the program have to have an electronic braking crash mitigation system, a forward-facing video camera, and their speeds must be limited to 65 mph.

“Back in the day I was young, and I had a seasoned driver with me so definitely that makes me feel okay and much better being on the road, said Harrington.

“I just don’t think they’ve got the experience overall to handle different climates and conditions,” said Cane.

Apprentice drivers can cross state lines up to 280 hours during supervised probationary periods.

After probation, they can drive on their own, but companies must monitor their performance until they’re 21. No more than 3,000 apprentices can take part in the training at any given time.

About the Author:

This native of the Big Apple joined the News4Jax team in July 2021.