Pilot program looks to address the truck driver shortage

Local News

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WOWK) – According to the National Trucking Association’s 2019 annual report, the trucking industry was short nearly 61,000 drivers in 2018, compared to about 51,000 in 2017. That number is expected to hit 100,000 by 2023.

“Part of the reason is a lot of the older truck drivers are retiring . . . a lot of the truck drivers now they have families, and as they get older they don’t want to be away from the families as much,” said Bill Caudill, CDL instructor, Ashland Community and Technical College.

To haul big loads across state lines (interstate commerce) federal law requires that commercial drivers be at least 21 years old, based on a 1975 study that found people under that age then lacked the judgment and maturity for the job.

“I have had people that were mature at 18, and I have had people that were not mature at 18,” said Caudill.

However, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is looking to address the issue.

In June the transportation department launched the Under 21 Military Pilot Program. The program will allow a limited number of national guard and armed services members under 21 years of age, with the U.S. military equivalent of a CDL license to work as an interstate trucker.

“Those are good-paying jobs, and what we want is for people to stay here in West Virginia. . . that not only helps our readiness in the West Virginia National Guard, but it helps families here in West Virginia as well,” said Maj. Holli Nelson, West Virginia National Guard.

The transportation department recently launched a website with a list of trucking companies that are taking part in the program. At the end of the three-year study, the department will see if age and maturity still play a factor in a person’s ability to haul big loads across the country. 

“As military members were are entrusted with sometimes millions of dollars worth of equipment. We are asking eighteen, nineteen-year-olds to drive M-ATV, humvee’s, really large pieces of equipment,” said Nelson.

If the pilot program shows positive results, the trucking industry will have brand new pool applicants to choose from three years from now.

FMCSA said West Virginia is home to more than 8,000 national guard and reservists.

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