CLP Exemption Request

Under-21 CLP Exemption Request Denied by FMCSA

In a significant decision impacting the trucking industry, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has denied a CLP exemption request from Pitt Ohio Express that sought to include commercial learner’s permit (CLP) holders under the age of 21 in the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot (SDAP) program. The rejection aligns with safety concerns and reflects broader industry debates around the issue of allowing under-21 drivers to operate commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) in interstate commerce.

Pitt Ohio’s Petition and Objectives

Pitt Ohio, a Pittsburgh-based regional less-than-truckload carrier, requested an exemption that would allow 25 drivers annually under 21 with a CLP to participate in the SDAP program. The current regulations require drivers between 18 and 20 years old to hold a commercial driver’s license (CDL not a CLP) and complete separate probationary periods of 120 and 280 hours during their apprenticeship with certified motor carriers.

In its request, Pitt Ohio argued that the CLP exemption request would alleviate difficulties in locating and recruiting younger apprentice drivers. The company emphasized that CLP holders would still need to meet all other requirements under the program, including supervision by a CDL holder in the passenger seat.

You can read more information about trucking industry regulations.

FMCSA’s Grounds for Denial of the CLP Exemption Request

The FMCSA’s denial hinged on safety concerns and the statutory framework governing the SDAP program. The agency noted that allowing under-21 CLP holders to operate CMVs in interstate commerce could expose them and other drivers to increased risks due to their inexperience. Additionally, Congress specifically authorized the SDAP program for 18- to 20-year-olds with a CDL, not a CLP.

In denying the CLP exemption request, FMCSA stated, “There is insufficient basis to conclude that the exemption would likely achieve a level of safety equivalent to, or greater than, the level achieved without the exemption.” Furthermore, the agency emphasized that the SDAP’s purpose is to determine whether there are conditions where safety data indicate younger drivers (18- to 20-year-olds) might safely operate CMVs.

Industry Opposition and Support

FMCSA’s decision aligns with concerns raised by several safety groups and organizations opposed to the exemption. The Truck Safety Coalition argued that Pitt Ohio had not provided sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the exemption would maintain or exceed current safety levels. Other groups, including Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH) and Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT), also voiced strong opposition.

In total, FMCSA received 23 public comments on Pitt Ohio’s request, with 16 opposed and only four in support. Edward Richard, a commenter against the exemption, stated, “Allowing them to put more immature drivers on the road is just wrong and unsafe.”

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The Under-21 Pilot Program

The SDAP program, established by the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, allows carriers to employ 18- to 20-year-olds with a CDL under specific probationary conditions. The goal is to assess whether younger drivers can safely operate CMVs in interstate commerce.

However, interest in the program has been lukewarm. As of April 2024, only 113 applications had been submitted by motor carriers, with just 34 fully approved to participate.

Industry Concerns Around Driver Shortage

The driver shortage narrative has been a focal point in advocating for expanding the pilot program to younger drivers. However, groups like the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) have refuted the shortage claims and argued that the pilot program overlooks deeper issues in the industry.

Jay Grimes, OOIDA’s director of federal affairs, criticized the push for younger drivers, saying, “For decades, large motor carriers and others have peddled the myth of a ‘driver shortage’ to find the cheapest labor possible without first addressing longstanding driver turnover problems.”

Looking Ahead

FMCSA’s denial of Pitt Ohio’s CLP exemption request underscores the agency’s commitment to safety and its cautious approach to including under-21 drivers in interstate operations. While trucking companies like Pitt Ohio seek flexibility in hiring younger drivers, industry groups and safety organizations remain wary of diluting standards that could compromise safety on the road.

As the trucking industry continues to grapple with recruitment challenges and safety concerns, this decision emphasizes the importance of balanced policies that prioritize both safety and workforce needs.

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