ALBANY — New York Governor Kathy Hochul recently signed a law clearing the way for up-and-coming truck drivers to get proper certification sooner.

The bill, S5486-A, will establish a comprehensive training program through the state Department of Transportation (DOT) in the coming months to allow drivers ages 18-20 to obtain a Class A Commercial Drivers License (CDL). Currently, the state restricts Class A CDLs to those 21 and older, allowing younger drivers to get a Class B CDL only.

Through this recent legislation, New York became the 50th state to allow individuals under the age of 21 to obtain a Class A CDL for operation within state borders. 

A Class A CDL allows certified drivers to operate large vehicles such as dump trucks, tractor-trailers, buses and stretch limos for commercial purposes including transporting products and more, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

State Senator Patty Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, in 2017 proposed a similar law establishing a certification class to “help address the truck driver shortage, provide relief to small businesses and ease supply chain issues,” Ritchie said.

“Truck drivers are the backbone of our state and national economies. Unfortunately though, in recent years, I have heard from many local businesses who have felt the impact of the truck driver shortage,” Ritchie said in a statement.

Duane Wright is the president of Local Teamsters Union 317, which represents CDL drivers in Oswego County. He said the recently enacted legislation would alleviate shortage issues plaguing the nationwide trucking industry during recent months and years.

“There is a shortage nationwide and industry wide of all CDL drivers and bus drivers,” he said.

The American Trucking Association (ATA) reported in October that there was an estimated shortage of roughly 80,000 truck drivers across the United States, with trends showing that the shortage could top 160,000 by 2030.

The ATA is the largest national trade association for the trucking industry, according to the organization’s website (www.trucking.org).

Wright attributed part of these shortages to increased standards and qualification requirements placed on drivers seeking licenses in recent years that have “limited the pool” of candidates. He also pointed to the previous age delay placed on interested drivers before they could obtain their licenses required by the state.

“What happens is when someone graduates high school, there is no direct path to becoming a CDL driver. They have to go and work in a different field and do something different until they turn 21,” he said. “With the change in the law, it would give someone a path out of high school who is not interested in going to college or any kind of other trade schools to enroll in a tractor-trailer school and become a CDL driver.”

According to Ritchie’s office, the new program will provide training similar to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s entry-level driver training requirements and require a minimum of 300 hours of driver training under the supervision of an experienced driver.

“I’m pleased legislation to accomplish this has been signed into law and look forward to seeing how it provides relief to the trucking industry, small businesses and our overall supply chain,” Ritchie said.

Fulton Mayor Deana Michaels lauded the new legislation as an opportunity for graduating students to enter the workforce when leaving school and pointed to more employment opportunities that will arise from the measure.

“Not every child wants to move on to the traditional path of college,” Michaels said. “The more options we have available to help our youths carve a career path, the better. These kids deserve all the support we can provide for a successful future.”

The DOT in the coming months will establish the young adult training program. The program is expected to be up and running within the year, Ritchie’s office said.