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Valley woman concerned about new apprenticeship program allowing teens to drive 18-wheelers

4 months 1 day 18 hours ago Monday, January 24 2022 Jan 24, 2022 January 24, 2022 6:58 AM January 24, 2022 in News - Local

A new program from the federal government could see teenagers with clean records driving 18-wheelers across state lines. Currently, only people 21 and over have that option. The move aims to help tackle the nationwide truck shortage. But one Valley resident isn't sure it's a good idea.

Debbie Cruz has used a nerve stimulator for more than a decade, and will keep using it for the rest of her life after an accident in 2008 involving an 18-wheeler sent her to the hospital for three weeks.

RELATED: US to allow teen semi drivers in test apprenticeship program  

Cruz finally got to go home, but the head trauma she suffered required her to get a nerve stimulator put in her brain. The nerves in her eyes were also damaged.

"That's why I have to have these dark glasses,” Cruz said. “You talk about any light at all, the outside, inside, I have to be very careful. If I'm exposed to light, anytime for a length of time, I can go blind."

Cruz says the nerve stimulator, along with medication, helps her manage the pain.

READ ALSO: South Texas College offers new commercial driver's license program  

After all of this, Cruz says she’s concerned about the new apprenticeship pilot program for truck drivers Congress passed in November as part of the infrastructure bill. It will allow anyone 18 or over — with a clean driving record — to drive 18-wheelers across state lines. Currently, drivers under 21 can drive a semi, but they can't move loads across states.

"Getting out of high school and being like, ‘Oh look I can drive an 18-wheeler,’” Cruz said. “They don't know how big these rigs are and they don't know what they're up against."

RELATED: New wave of truck drivers emerging amid supply chain shortages  

According to the American Truckers Association, currently there's a need for a record number of 80,000 drivers. Under the pilot program, young drivers would be allowed to cross state lines during a probationary period, as long as an experienced driver is in the passenger seat. After that, they can drive on their own, but their performance will be monitored until they turn 21. The trucks used will have an electronic braking crash mitigation system, a forward-facing video camera, and speeds must be limited to 65 mph.

But for Cruz, this change isn't a good idea.

"The three-year difference would make a difference,” Cruz said. “It would make a difference. 21 would make a difference to me. The 18-year-old would be too young."

READ ALSO: McAllen business affected by lack of truck drivers  

The pilot program will run for three years. If you're interested in participating or want more information about the program, visit https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2022/01/14/2022-00733/safe-driver-apprenticeship-pilot-program-to-allow-persons-ages-18-19-and-20-to-operate-commercial

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