Opinion: Younger truck drivers could solve shortage, supply chain issues


The recent announcement that the federal government will soon be rolling out a new program
to let drivers as young as 18 drive semi trucks across state lines has gotten a lot of attention —
both inside and outside the industry. The Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program, designed
by the Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA),
will allow 3,000 drivers at a time to complete a training course of 400 driving hours under the
guidance of an experienced driver.

Once those supervised hours are completed, young drivers will be able to drive solo with
enhanced safety measures and increased monitoring in place, meaning more trucks hitting the
road delivering goods to their final destinations across the country. While current regulations
restrict drivers under the age of 21 to intrastate driving, the FMCSA will issue an age
exemption allowing eligible drivers to participate in the program.

From the point of view of experienced truckers and trucking service providers, the program
presents an intriguing opportunity to give enterprising young drivers an opportunity to make
an impact in a space where driver shortages are just one of many issues increasing the cost of
transportation. An influx of new drivers could potentially have a downstream benefit, easing
strains on both local and national supply chains.

Those expressing doubts about the wisdom of the program cite potential safety concerns,
pointing out that the majority of trucking accidents involve younger drivers, and questioning
the wisdom of lower age limits. It’s important to take those concerns seriously.

Getting behind the wheel of an 80,000-pound vehicle is an awesome responsibility and should
never be taken lightly.

The good news, however, is that the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program has a robust
safety component, and the apprenticeship feature is an outstanding opportunity to kick-start a

The recent announcement that the federal government will soon be rolling out a new program
to let drivers as young as 18 drive semi trucks across state lines has gotten a lot of attention —
both inside and outside the industry. The Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program, designed
by the Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA),
will allow 3,000 drivers at a time to complete a training course of 400 driving hours under the
guidance of an experienced driver.

Once those supervised hours are completed, young drivers will be able to drive solo with
enhanced safety measures and increased monitoring in place, meaning more trucks hitting the
road delivering goods to their final destinations across the country. While current regulations
restrict drivers under the age of 21 to intrastate driving, the FMCSA will issue an age
exemption allowing eligible drivers to participate in the program.

From the point of view of experienced truckers and trucking service providers, the program
presents an intriguing opportunity to give enterprising young drivers an opportunity to make
an impact in a space where driver shortages are just one of many issues increasing the cost of
transportation. An influx of new drivers could potentially have a downstream benefit, easing
strains on both local and national supply chains.

Those expressing doubts about the wisdom of the program cite potential safety concerns,
pointing out that the majority of trucking accidents involve younger drivers, and questioning
the wisdom of lower age limits. It’s important to take those concerns seriously.
Getting behind the wheel of an 80,000-pound vehicle is an awesome responsibility and should
never be taken lightly.

The good news, however, is that the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program has a robust
safety component, and the apprenticeship feature is an outstanding opportunity to kick-start a

This is definitely a long-term investment, not a quick fix. But with a continuing driver
shortage, high inflation and rising transportation costs (local automakers have seen shipping
costs increase 140% in the last year), the potential positive impact both nationally and locally
cannot be dismissed.

Paul Adams is CEO at Livonia-based RoadEx, a transportation services provider offering
freight bill factoring, dispatch, fuel programs and insurance service