The NGFA commended the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) for considering a second pilot program to allow drivers aged 18, 19, and 20 to operate commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) in interstate commerce.
In an Aug. 6 statement submitted to the agency, NGFA said the pilot program has the potential to remove a significant impediment to efficient movement of goods in interstate commerce – the inconsistent minimum age rules for CMV drivers operating in interstate versus intrastate commerce. The minimum age for operating CMVs within states’ borders is 18, while 21 is the federal minimum age to drive across state lines.
The first FMCSA pilot program, which launched July 2018, limited its CMV drivers to those aged 18-20 with military experience operating heavy vehicles. Broadening driver eligibility in the new pilot program to those without military experience will help ensure enough meaningful data is collected to assess potential safety impacts, NGFA said.
“We believe the highly restrictive driver eligibility in the first pilot program will severely limit the sample size and usefulness of the data gathered,” NGFA said. “The second pilot program, with its broader driver eligibility, is needed to make a more adequate assessment that we believe will demonstrate that expanding the age eligibility for CVM drivers can be done without compromising highway safety.”
The rules for the potential pilot have not been released, but NGFA believes they would largely mirror draft legislation, entitled the “Drive Safe Act,” that is under consideration by both chambers of Congress. The Drive Safe Act would require drivers aged 18-20 to complete an apprenticeship with an experienced driver and limit their driving to CMVs equipped with advanced safety technology.
In its comments, NGFA noted that substantially more agricultural products are transported by truck than any other mode (e.g., rail and barge). Each year, CMVs transport approximately 500 million tons of U.S.-produced grains and oilseeds from field to commercial storage facilities, which is the equivalent of 20 million truckloads. Further, after the initial movement to storage, agricultural commodities most often are transported – frequently by motor vehicle – at least one more time before arriving at the final domestic destination.
Given the large quantities of raw agricultural commodities that are moved by truck, the decline in the number of CMV drivers and the surge in driver demand that occurs at harvest, having access to a sufficient number of drivers is becoming increasingly critical across the agricultural supply chain. The majority of truck movements for grain, feed and processed commodities are of relatively short distances and duration compared to long hauls. However, many movements still cross states lines given demand pulls for agricultural commodities and products.
NGFA encouraged FMCSA to continue its ongoing review of other potential regulatory changes that could help motor carriers recruit and retain qualified and safe drivers, given the critical driver shortage that currently exists and is projected to worsen.
“FMCSA’s efforts to create a highly efficient and safe truck transportation system would help U.S. agriculture remain competitive in domestic and global markets and enable U.S. agriculture to continue to contribute positively to our nation’s economic growth, job creation and global food security,” NGFA concluded.