New program puts young vets at the wheel of commercial trucks to address driver shortage

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) - Currently, federal law prohibits anybody younger than 21 to drive a commercial truck. But an exception is now being made for men and women in the National Guard and Reserves and if it goes well it could allow for even more young adults to hop in a truck and drive. 

Every year the military teaches thousands of young folks to drive big heavy trucks and now that training can be used to further their civilian careers. 

"Men and women do a great job of performing that task for the military so the question is why are they not allowed to do that same job in the civilian life," says Elaine Chao, US Transportation Secretary.

Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao came to Omaha to introduce the program and says while young drivers get a bad rap, she believes they can fill a key cog in the transportation economy.

"There are people who feel if you are young, you somehow will drive the vehicle in a less safe way. We do not feel like that is the case but we don't want to pre-judge," says Chao.

The program is being welcomed by the truck driving industry. Al Hill of Hill Brothers Transportation says modern technology makes him to feel comfortable with a teenager driving an 18-wheeler. 

"It is so much safer now because of the automatic transmissions, lane departure warning and all the safety features and all the things that come with it. I feel very comfortable with an 18-year-old driving a truck," says Al Hill, President of Hill Brothers Transportation.

Military officials say the program is a no-brainer because many of the young vets' skill-sets match the tools needed to drive. 

"They're relatively healthy, they're disciplined, they have leadership skills and they're drug-tested," says Daryl Bohac, adjutant general, Nebraska National Guard. 

Senator Deb Fischer who helped push the program to reality thinks it could eventually go even further. 

"And hopefully we can look forward to implementing a program like this, beyond just military,” says Fischer.

While the program is being tested, transportation officials will monitor data to ensure that the young drivers are operating the trucks safely. 

One military official says the test program will last 18 months.

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