The trucking industry has two problems: A high rate of retirement and an even higher turnover rate. That means experienced truck drivers on America’s highways are becoming few and far between. However, a new safety program from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) aims to change that. But will this new safety program make better truck drivers? That’s still to be determined.
The new initiative is called the “Safe Driver Apprenticeship Program.” Despite the name, its main goal is not to develop safer driving habits. Rather, this program exists because the law does not allow drivers under the age of 21 to engage in interstate commerce. As more truck drivers retire and fresh high school graduates take their place, that means fewer and fewer people are able to move shipments across state lines.
The Safe Driver Apprenticeship Program allows drivers under 21-years-old to engage in interstate commerce on the condition that they have an experienced truck driver riding in the passenger seat and that their vehicle is equipped with technological safety measures.
Throughout the program, young truck drivers will be tested on their safety and driving aptitude at regular intervals. After 400 hours of behind-the-wheel training with an instructor, a young truck driver can earn the right to travel across state lines before their 21st birthday.
What makes his program unique is that it is an apprenticeship. The driver is accompanied by an experienced truck driver with a record for safe driving who will guide them and provide valuable advice for the next 400 hours.
Considering that drivers are only required to have 30 hours of behind-the-wheel training before testing for their commercial driver’s license, this law makes an enormous difference in training hours for those who want to earn the right to interstate transit.
Moreover, the requirements for the mentor are strict, which helps ensure that the young driver is learning the correct techniques.
The requirements for a safe, experienced truck driver are someone who:
- Is older than 26
- Has had their CDL for at least 2 years
- Has no preventable accidents or moving violations in the last two years
- Has been an interstate commerce driver for at least 5 years
Additionally, the program requires that the truck be outfitted with modern safety measures such as blindspot mirrors and backup cameras. These are two safety measures that many experienced truck drivers lack, though they are becoming more common.
Looking Toward the Future
The benefits of this program seem enormous. As the truck driver shortage has grown over the past 5 years, so too has the number of truck accident fatalities. It’s clear that new drivers are more likely to be in a crash than the experienced truck drivers they are replacing.
This program offers 13x more training than is required to earn a commercial driver’s license. The question is why stop there? If this program creates a new generation of truck drivers who are demonstrably safer than their undertrained counterparts, it would only make sense to have all new truck drivers apprentice with an experienced mentor.
That said, this program is just beginning and it remains to be seen how it plays out over time. If it is effective at reducing crashes, then it could be just the fix the truck industry needs to not only make the roads safer but also engage drivers who otherwise have an extremely high turnover rate.
If you or someone you love suffered serious injuries or wrongful death in a trucking accident, we are here for you. To discuss your crash with an experienced Kansas City Truck accident attorney from Shamberg, Johnson & Bergman, send us an email or call us at (816) 542-5999 for a free consultation.