PHOENIX - The federal government is moving forward with a plan to let teenagers drive big rigs from state to state in a test program.
The pilot program, detailed in a proposed regulation from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, would screen the teens, barring any with driving-while-impaired violations or traffic tickets for causing a crash.
The apprenticeship pilot program was required by Congress as part of the infrastructure bill signed into law on Nov. 15. It requires the FMCSA, which is part of the Transportation Department, to start the program within 60 days.
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.
"This is ultimately a safety program," said Nicholas Geale with the American Trucking Association.
Supporters, opponents speak out
The program comes at a time when the U.S. is facing a truck driver shortage, with the country down 80,000 drivers. The program can train up to 3,000 truck drivers, and as a condition for driving across state lines, the trainees will be required to complete 400 hours of probationary time, as they train under an experienced driver.
Officials with the American Trucking Association say this will boost their efforts to get more truckers on the road.
"80% of the country depends exclusively on trucking," said Geale. "In order to ensure that we have next generation available to provide that opportunity to deliver food, medicine, whatever you need, we need next generation of truck drivers to get into the system."
Those opposed to the program, however, say this is simply not the answer, and believe young truckers are a problem.
"Younger drivers are much more likely to get involved in crashes or serious injury, up to 500%, which is pretty shocking," said Zach Cahalan with the Truck Safeety Coaliton.
"There is no data or evidence that suggest this pilot program and apprenticeship program is in the public interest," said ___. "It is trading the lives of fellow roadway users so that the industry can get access to a labor pool to solve their retention crisis."
The Truck Safety Coalition say lives are at risk, but the American Trucking Association says this will actually be the exact opposite.
"This will be the best trained group of truckers ever in the history of the country, with top-of-the-line safety requirements," said Geale.
The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report.