BIRMINGHAM, Ala (WIAT) — In an effort to reduce shortages in the trucking industry, a new federal pilot program could soon pave the way for teenage drivers to cross state lines.
The U.S. Department of Transportation plans to launch the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot for drivers under the age of 21.
In Alabama, you can apply for a commercial driver’s license at 18 years old. Many drivers take training courses at schools like Wallace State Community College and Bevill State Community College.
There are travel restrictions for young drivers.
“They cannot cross state lines. So you can drive from Mobile to Huntsville, but you can’t drive from Mobile to Pascagoula or from Huntsville up to Nashville,” said Mark Colson, CEO of the Alabama Trucking Association.
Colson said the industry has been faced with labor challenges for awhile now, but the pandemic made the situation worse. He hopes the new pilot program will open doors for younger generations looking to begin a career.
“There is no silver bullet that will fix these workforce challenges for the trucking or any other industry. This pilot program we believe is a good thing for the long term,” he said.
Truck drivers ensure that products and goods are moved across the country. Shortages can impact supply and demand.
“Over 112,000 people in Alabama work in the trucking industry. That is 1 in 15 jobs in our state and 86 percent of everything that every community in Alabama gets, it comes from a trucker,” Colson said.
While some drivers are concerned about young or inexperienced drivers crossing state lines, Colson pointed to the fact that most states already allow them to drive within state lines. He said training programs will be rigorous to ensure the safety of everyone on the road.
“Not just any 18, 19, or 20 year old can jump behind the wheel of a truck. They have to go through a very serious training program and meet job proficiencies before they can do so. Our argument has been those that go through that program will likely be some of the safest drivers on the road,” he said.
The U.S. Department of Transportation and Department of Labor recently released limited information about the pilot program here.