The US Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) launched the Safe Driver Apprentice Program (SDAP) on January 14, 2022. This pilot program is part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) that the Congress passed and President Biden signed into law last November 2021. The SDAP allows young drivers between ages 18 to 20 and with commercial driver licenses (CDLs) to undergo extensive training that will let them operate commercial vehicles across interstate lines as 21-year-old truck drivers. The program was implemented to address the shortage of truck drivers, where one of its causes is an aging working population. 

The American Trucking Association reports that the US has a shortage of more than 80,000 truck drivers. This gap could increase to 160,000 in 2030. The shortage is causing supply chain disruptions that we continue to feel until today. A bipartisan lawmaker group in the Senate and House introduced a safe pilot program known as the Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy (DRIVE) Safe Act in 2021. It addresses the driver shortage by overriding the federal law that bans CDL holders below age 21 to operate commercial motor vehicles across state lines. The Department of Transportation (DOT) released the bulletin on launching the driver apprenticeship programs last January 2022.

Requirements to Participate in the SDAP 

What is a pilot driver? According to the FMCSA bulletin, only 18- to 20-year-old drivers with a CDL in their state can participate in the pilot program. Apart from being a qualified CDL driver apprentice, the young drivers cannot participate in the program if:

  • They have more than one license (with the exception of a military one).
  • Their license has been revoked, suspended, canceled, or disqualified for violation related to their State’s 49 CFR 383.51 rule.
  • They have been convicted for violations such as being under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance, refused to take an alcohol test, left the scene of a crash, drove a CMV with the CDL revoked, canceled or suspended, has caused a fatality or left the scene of a crash, or has had more than one conviction for violations like driving recklessly, violating a texting while driving or using hand held phone while driving law or ordinance.   

The maximum number of apprentices that can participate in the program is capped at 3,000 within any period.

Below are the qualifications for a motor carrier to participate in this pilot apprenticeship:

  1. Complete an application to participate – The FMCSA is not accepting applications yet but you can check their website for the date they start accepting applications.
  2. Motor carriers must not have the following on their record: 
  • Do not have an unsatisfactory or conditional safety rating.
  • Do not have a crash rate or a driver OOS rate above the national average. 
  • Do not have a vehicle OOS rate above the national average.
  • Do not have any open enforcement actions from the last 6 years.

The SDAP Program

The program itself is made up of two probationary periods of safety training. The first takes 120 hours and the next is a 280-hour probationary period. The young driver apprentice can drive a truck or vehicle that carries goods across state lines in these periods, but only with the accompaniment of an experienced driver. The criteria for an experienced driver to train a safety apprentice, according to the FMCSA, is someone who:

  • Is at least 26 years old
  • Has held a CDL
  • Has been employed the past two years
  • Has at least 5 years interstate CMV experience
  • Has no preventable accidents reported to the agency or any pointed moving violations.

What happens during the probationary periods?

The young driver should clock in at least 120 hours on duty during the first probationary period. At least 80 hours of those 120 hours should be spent driving a CMV. The motor carrier training the apprentice should also make sure he or she completes the required driving time. The training must result in their competency for the following areas:

  • Safety awareness or an operations safe drivers program
  • City traffic
  • Interstate
  • Speed and space management
  • Lane control
  • Rural 2-lane and evening driving
  • Mirror scanning
  • Logging and complying with rules for hours of service
  • Right and left turns

The second probationary period entails the 280-hour on-duty time of the pilot driver. The apprentice should have no less than 160 hours driving a CMV. The fleet motor carrier’s second period involves training the driver’s competence in these areas:

  • Pre-trip inspections
  • Fueling procedures
  • Weighing loads
  • Backing and maneuvering in close quarters
  • Trip planning and truck routes
  • Map reading, permits, and navigation
  • Weight distribution and sliding tandems
  • Coupling and uncoupling procedures

Fleet or motor carriers participating in the SDAP need to submit monthly data on their apprentice’s activity. The report includes important details like driving and duty hours, off-duty time, breaks, vehicle miles traveled, and safety outcomes. 

Netradyne can help you track the performance and gather the necessary data during your driver apprenticeship program. Check out how our technology like dash cams and a positive-behavior based GreenZone® Score greatly improves the competencies of both experienced and inexperienced drivers. 

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