New bill directs DOT to make changes in sagging apprenticeship program

Updated May 19, 2023
'Student Driver' sign on side of trailer

A bill was introduced in the House of Representatives Wednesday aimed at increasing participation in a floundering truck driver apprenticeship pilot program aimed at preparing 18-20-year-olds for interstate driving.

The DRIVE Safe Integrity Act was introduced by Representatives Rick Crawford (R-Arkansas) and Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) to make changes in the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program, which was created as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The program set a limit of 3,000 participants, but only about a dozen have actually enrolled.

The American Trucking Associations and the International Foodservice Distributors Association applauded the introduction of the legislation, which the two organizations said builds upon strong, bipartisan support for the DRIVE Safe Act over the last few Congresses and the inclusion of the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program in the infrastructure bill.  

The ATA and IFDA blamed the low participation in the apprenticeship program on what they called "extraneous USDOT requirements for program participation that were not included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law." They said the DRIVE Safe Integrity Act would help get the pilot program back on track by:  

  • Urging DOT to take corrective actions that would improve participation in the SDAP
  • Requiring DOT to provide Congress detailed reports on SDAP’s status and corrective actions taken to improve participation. 

“Building a 21st century supply chain requires a strong, vibrant and growing trucking workforce,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear. “The DRIVE Safe Integrity Act will bolster new career pathways into interstate trucking while promoting safety and training standards that far exceed the bar set by states today. This legislation offers a timely and essential trucking workforce and supply chain solution, built off years of broad bipartisan Congressional support.”

In 49 states plus the District of Columbia, 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds are permitted to obtain a CDL and drive heavy-duty commercial vehicles in intrastate commerce. However, federal rules prohibit those same drivers from driving in interstate commerce. 

“By directing DOT to steer the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program back to the course Congress originally intended and providing a path forward for participants to safely enter the workforce, this bill will ensure our industry has the talent it needs to meet the economy’s freight demands in the years to come,” Spear said.