Graduated licensing: Its a concept that could give us a new source of commercial drivers lets keep an open mind

In an effort to encourage safe driving practices among younger drivers, a number of states have established graduated licensing programs.

For example, new drivers are issued licenses allowing them to operate vehicles between 6:00 a.m. and 12 midnight only. Other restrictions might include a limit on the number of passengers in the vehicle, the presence of a licensed driver over the age of 21, or verification of a specific amount of behind-the-wheel practice driving. In addition, sanctions for driving offenses under these licenses could result in suspensions of varying lengths.

The Office of Motor Carriers (OMC) at the Dept. of Transportation is conducting a study to determine whether a similar graduated license concept could work in trucking.

The positive ramifications of graduated licensing programs for the trucking industry are numerous. For starters, it could generate drivers with better training and thus better skills. In addition, it would encourage a more appropriate use of driver records. And perhaps most exciting of all, graduated licensing programs could open the way for attracting young people to the trucking industry.

A graduated commercial drivers licensing system could provide an incentive for younger, safer drivers to choose careers in trucking. As regulations now stand, 21 is the minimum age for obtaining a commercial drivers license.

If regulations were changed so that younger people could operate commercial motor vehicles provided, of course, they had outstanding safety records and had received the appropriate training the trucking industry would stand a better chance of attracting and keeping them before they got involved in other careers.

Of utmost importance to the graduated licensing proposal is the requirement for an outstanding driving record. In turn, this emphasis on driving records could provide the incentive government agencies need to improve recordkeeping systems. Keeping bad drivers off the road and out of commercial vehicles will be paramount to the success of the graduated licensing program. And drivers will have an equally strong incentive for maintaining a good record.

More research is necessary before a change of this nature could become a reality. Not to mention the fact that any change will be a hard sell to the highway safety community as well as the trucking industry. As a group, younger drivers are involved in proportionately more accidents and commit more moving violations. In addition, motor vehicle crashes are near the top of the list of causes of injury and death among the 18-20 age group.

Given all this, what can we expect in the way of change for the trucking industry? First of all, we need to test a carefully crafted pilot program in several states. Such a program would allow younger drivers with clean driving records and a pre-determined level of training to operate commercial vehicles. These drivers would eventually be allowed to graduate into increasingly more responsible driving situations those involving interstate or long-distance trips that require overnight stays, for example. Or trips without a more experienced driver in the cab.

At this point in time we would ask fleet safety managers to have an open mind regarding the prospect of issuing commercial drivers licenses to younger drivers. We should evaluate future needs for drivers and understand the possibilities a graduated licensing system could provide. OMC plans to hold more focus groups on this topic, and if they indicate sufficient interest, a rulemaking could follow. I would encourage fleet safety managers to participate in these groups if they have the opportunity to do so.

The driver shortage is not going away any time soon. In fact, its likely to get worse. Graduated licensing could be a major step toward improving both the quality and quantity of drivers in the trucking industry.