CMV drivers under 21-years-old may soon be a reality

So, is the neighborhood kid who mows your lawn ready to drive your motorcoaches?

While bus and motorcoach companies are frequently asking their insurance company to consider drivers between the ages of 21-24 years old, Congress may soon be considering commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers under 21.

The Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy Act or the DRIVE-Safe Act (H.R. 1374) was introduced by Rep. Trey Hollingsworth (R-TX) and already has bipartisan support and eight cosponsors (Representatives Henry Cuellar (D-TX), Paul Mitchell (R-MI), Jim Cooper (D-TN), Shelia Jackson Lee (D-TX), Al Green (D-TX), Bruce Westerman (R-A), John Moolenaar (R-MI) and Greg Pence (R-IN).

The bill was referred to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and subsequently referred to the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit. Highlights of the bill, however, reveal that it may not provide the elusive fountain of drivers that many have hoped for.

First and foremost is this: If passed, the bill would compel motor carriers to establish an apprenticeship program for drivers under 21 years old, requiring the accompaniment of an experienced commercial motor vehicle (CMV) driver for a 120-hour probationary period of which no fewer than 80 hours are driving time. Performance benchmarks include competency in interstate; city traffic; rural two-lane and evening driving; safety awareness; speed and space management; lane control; mirror scanning; right and left turns; logging; and complying with rules relating to hours of service.

Completion of the 120-hour probationary period is followed by a 280-hour probationary period of on-duty time, of which no fewer than 160 hours are driving time in a CMV. The employer is further required to determine that the apprentice is competent in backing and maneuvering in close quarters, pre-trip inspections, fueling procedures, weighing loads, weight distribution, and sliding tandems, coupling and uncoupling procedures, trip planning, truck routes, map reading, navigation and permits.

Further restrictions for both the 120-hour and 280-hour probationary periods mandate that the apprentice only drive a commercial motor vehicle that has automatic manual or automatic transmissions; active braking collision mitigation systems; forward-facing video event capture; and governed speeds of 65 miles per hour at the pedal and 65 miles per hour under adaptive cruise control.

If the apprentice is involved in a preventable accident reportable to the Department of Transportation or a pointed moving violation while driving a commercial motor vehicle as part of an apprenticeship program described in this subsection, the apprentice shall undergo remediation and additional training until the apprentice can demonstrate, to the satisfaction of the employer, competence in each of the performance benchmarks. The apprentice shall be considered to have completed the apprenticeship program on the date on which the apprentice completes the 280-hour probationary period.

On the surface, at least, the program does not appear to lend itself to small fleet operations; however, some large fleet companies may have the resources to comply with all the restrictions. Long-term, the program could be a pipeline for additional CMV drivers as they pursue other commercial driving opportunities.

For the bus and motorcoach industry, there remain several unanswered questions; particularly in the areas of insurance and customer relations. Today, the typical insurer of bus and motorcoach operations prefers a minimum age of 25 years old and three years of similar equipment driving experience. At least initially, insurers will perceive the risk disproportionate to their typical underwriting standards. Disproportionate risks require disproportionate premiums, if insurable at all. Over time, as loss experience develops, premiums will adjust up or down as the unknowns (loss frequency and severity) become known. Large fleet operators with a substantial premium base may have the capacity to absorb the risk; small fleet companies likely will not.

“We know that any new commercial bus or motorcoach driver tends to have more accidents,” said Bob Crescenzo, vice president of Lancer Insurance Company. It’s not just age, it’s “windshield time” that insurance companies question.

How will customers perceive very young drivers? In many instances an 18- or 19-year-old driver could be much younger than the charter group he or she is transporting. It is a fact that younger drivers as a group will have more crashes than more mature drivers. Will these crashes harm a bus and motorcoach company’s reputation in the community, particularly with core customers (schools, religious institutions, senior groups, etc.)? Will increased premiums render a bus and motorcoach company’s charter rates uncompetitive?

As the industry grapples with these questions and many more including addressing the shortage of qualified CMV drivers, H.R. 1374 and a companion Senate bill (S.569) may be a part of a long-term solution. UMA is watching this bill with modicum of optimism and an abundance of caution.

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