WASHINGTON — A proposal aimed at lowering barriers to the Biden administration’s under-21 truck driver apprenticeship pilot program has strong support from the nation’s big-carrier lobby.

The DRIVE Safe Integrity Act, introduced Wednesday by Reps. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., and Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, would potentially remove a requirement in the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot (SDAP) program for drivers ages 18-20 that participating carriers also join the U.S. Department of Labor’s registered apprenticeship program.

The DOL requirement was not included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which authorized the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration pilot program.

“The Secretary of Transportation shall …, if necessary, remove requirements for participation in the program that go beyond … the [IIJA] in order to improve participation rates and collect sufficient data,” a draft copy of the bill reads.

The bill also directs the U.S. Department of Transportation — within a year after the pilot ends — to review the safety data and issue regulations for a permanent apprenticeship program for commercial drivers ages 18-20.

The American Trucking Associations, which was unsuccessful in getting the FMCSA to remove the DOL requirement last year, is a strong backer of the proposal as a way of tackling a truck driver shortage.

“This legislation offers a timely and essential trucking workforce and supply chain solution, built off years of broad bipartisan Congressional support,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear.

ATA noted that SDAP was capped at 3,000 participating drivers at any one time, but fewer than a dozen driver participants have enrolled. “This failure is partly due to extraneous USDOT requirements for program participation that were not included in the bipartisan infrastructure law,” the group stated. “The DRIVE Safe Integrity Act would help get the pilot program back on track.”

Part of broad supply chain package

Crawford, who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s highway subcommittee, is looking to include the bill and several others introduced this week in a supply chain legislation package being developed by the committee and marked up next week.

“These bills address important elements of these concerns and offer solutions that will improve how goods move throughout the nation for years to come,” Crawford said.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to develop a robust package that will strengthen and expand our supply chain by removing barriers, improving efficiency, and directing investment.”

Other bills Crawford wants in the package include the One Federal Decision for All Act, which would streamline the approval process for infrastructure projects by consolidating the environmental review process among various government agencies.

“This process currently applies to highway projects, but this bill would expand the current law to port, aviation, and pipeline projects,” Crawford noted.

Another bill, H.R. 3318, addresses the issue of dry bulk cargo such as flour that tends to shift in trucks during transport, potentially putting the truck out of compliance with weight-per-axle regulations. The legislation would allow a weight variance of 10% per axle for dry bulk haulers.

“Today’s dry bulk commercial vehicles are underfilled to account for content shift during transit, which means less efficiency, more trucks on the road adding highway wear and tear, and increased costs to the American people,” commented Ryan Streblow, president and CEO of the National Tank Truck Carriers.

“Thanks to H.R. 3318 … tank trucks hauling essential goods like flour and grain can be granted an axle weight variance to maximize their loads while remaining within current federal weight guidelines.”

Related articles:

FMCSA to consider easing CDL rule for truck driver trainees

OOIDA: Can under-21 truck drivers get insurance?

Biden highlights new trucking jobs amid looming downturn

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.

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