Are Older Truck Drivers Causing More Wrecks?
Nearly 70 percent of the nation’s goods are transported by truck, yet the trucking industry is currently seeking tens of thousands of drivers to fill its cabs. This comes at a time when companies are carrying near-record freight loads due to steady economic demand and lower fuel prices. As empty truck cabs multiply and demand for drivers rises, companies are seeking a new demographic to fill the void: retirees. While this is good news for older workers who are looking to rejoin the labor force, a number of traffic safety experts and trucking industry veterans are asking whether this trend might make our highways less safe.
Do Older Truck Drivers Create Highway Safety Concerns?
Approximately 10 percent of commercial truck drivers today are above the age of 65. The “trucking generation” or those aged 45–55, make up the largest group, (roughly 30 percent) of the industry. This same generation also made up the majority of drivers in 1994, when they were aged 24–35.
Industry experts say that few people in their 20s or 30s today consider a career as a truck driver due to the demanding hours, the relatively low pay, and the sometimes-tedious nature of the work. These factors are the main reason why the trucking industry continues to struggle when it comes to finding younger drivers, and why employers have turned instead toward recruiting older drivers who are seeking post-retirement employment.
The body of scientific evidence shows, though, that as humans age, vision and hearing, cognitive functioning, and reaction time deteriorate. Undeniably, an older driver is at a greater risk of not reacting quickly enough to respond to sudden traffic shifts or obstacles in the road. Not only that, but the demanding schedule of a long-haul trucker can create fatigue among even the youngest and fittest drivers. Fatigue is among the leading causes of large truck crashes today, and it’s very likely that the aging of the trucking workforce will further aggravate this problem.
Epidemiological studies show, for example, that more than 50% of adults over age 65 have some form of chronic sleep-related complaint, which makes it much more difficult for them to get a good night’s rest. Experts also consider advanced age a risk factor for sleep apnea, which is a leading cause of truck driver fatigue.
Crash Data Indicates Wrecks Are on the Rise Among Older Truckers
Large truck crash data from recent years seems to indicate that the swell of older drivers is already leading to more truck wrecks. CBS News, for instance, analyzed crash data from 12 states in October 2016 and reported that accidents involving truck and bus drivers in their 70s, 80s and 90s increased 19 percent between 2013 and 2015.
Currently, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) allows anyone, regardless of age, to become a truck driver as long as they pass the required physical. Law enforcement and industry professionals express concern, though, that trucking companies may be hiring drivers who are unable to withstand the physical and mental demands of long-haul commercial trucking simply to meet driver demand, and that the rising numbers of truck wrecks each year may be a symptom of this problem.
Complicating matters is the fact that experts who express concern about older truckers and their effect on traffic safety must toe a fine line when it comes to proposing reforms or risk running afoul of federal anti-discrimination laws. Rose McMurray, a former senior executive at the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), said the industry considered implementing regular skills tests for older commercial drivers in the 1990s, but said that courts eventually determined that anti-discrimination laws prevented such requirements.
“It clearly can result in a lot of political backlash… so state governments have grappled with this, the federal government has grappled with this… because the age discrimination laws really intervene,” she said to CBS.
Some experts have proposed a periodic truck driver skills test — one without any age stipulations — as a safety measure that might begin to address this problem. However, no consensus exists yet as to how such a test might be implemented. As the trucking industry navigates potential solutions to this issue, one fact remains apparent: we’re just beginning to understand the impacts of an aging pool of truck drivers on highway safety.
Injured in a Trucking Accident? Contact Morgan Adams Today
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Are older commercial truck drivers causing more danger on nation’s highways? (2016, October 18). CBS News. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/trucking-semi-industry-recruiting-retirees-commercial-drivers-accidents/
Rafter, M. (2016, June 14). Truck driver shortage: Is it self-inflicted? Trucks.com. Retrieved from https://www.trucks.com/2016/06/14/truck-driver-shortage-self-inflicted/
Short, J. (2014, December). Analysis of truck driver demographics across two decades [whitepaper]. American Transportation Research Institute. Retrieved from http://atri-online.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Analysis-of-Truck-Driver-Age-Demographics-FINAL-12-2014.pdf