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Trucker Experience, Not Age, Has Greater Impact on Crash Risks, Study Reveals

Trucker Experience, Not Age, Has Greater Impact on Crash Risks, Study Reveals

The Findings Back a Move to Let Truckers Under 21 Drive Interstate

Long-held beliefs in the trucking industry have seen drivers’ age as a huge risk factor when it comes to 18-wheeler crash risks. A new study from Virginia Tech says that’s not exactly true. Driver experience is a far greater indicator of accident risk, and younger truckers may actually have some advantages in safety, when compared to older drivers, researchers say.

Those findings lend support to a newly launched pilot program by federal trucking regulators. That program is evaluating the potential benefits of allowing truckers under 21 to transport interstate commerce. The results could have major consequences for the future of the trucking industry.

How Trucker Experience vs. Age Affects the Risk of 18-Wheeler Accidents

Entitled Commercial Motor Vehicle Driver Risk Based on Age and Driving Experience, the Virginia Tech study compared factors of experience versus age by evaluating more than 9,000 commercial truckers. Researchers classified drivers into 6 age groups and 8 experience categories. Then, they analyzed the safety levels and crash risks by looking at moving violations and accident rates by group.

Here are some of the key findings:

  • The first year of commercial driving is the riskiest: The study concludes, “Generally speaking, the first year of driving a CMV is riskier in terms of crash rates, crash involvement, and moving violations, regardless of age.”
  • A decade of experience can equalize crash risks: After a decade of trucking experience, the risk of an 18-wheeler crash is pretty equal across different age groups, the study found.
  • Younger drivers may have some unique safety advantages: These truckers can be more eager to prove themselves while having faster reactions and heightened senses. Researchers also noted that older drivers may be overconfident or more resistant to safety training because they think their experience driving passenger vehicles suffices.
  • The older truckers get, the more inexperience matters: Within the first year, truckers who are older than 55 are involved in more crashes than younger drivers with the same level of experience.

Study Recommendations

To reduce crash risk and optimize safety, researchers recommended that motor carriers:

  • Prioritize training: Mentoring programs and ongoing training can be key to instilling safety habits and knowledge in new drivers.
  • Invest in safety technologies: Dashcam systems can “help fleet managers improve driver safety… These cameras continually record video and provide evidence-based opportunities for driver training, which may provide additional benefits.”

FMCSA Pilot Program for Interstate Truckers Under 21

Just five months after the Virginia Tech study was published, regulators at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced a new pilot program for commercial drivers younger than 21. The program will assess the viability and potential risks of letting drivers 18 to 20 drive interstate hauls.

Participants will only be operating standard-configuration vehicles. They will not be transporting people or hazardous materials. To qualify for the program, younger drivers need at least 1 year or 25,000 miles of driving experience.

Commenting on the program, FMCSA Deputy Administrator Wiley Deck stated:

This action will allow the Agency to carefully examine the safety, feasibility, and possible economic benefits of allowing 18 to 20-year-old drivers to operate in interstate commerce. Safety is always FMCSA’s top priority, so we encourage drivers, motor carriers, and interested citizens to review this proposed new pilot program and share their thoughts and opinions.Many eagerly await the findings of this study, hoping it can open the door for younger truckers to enter the interstate trucking industry. If that happens, it could pave the way towards ending the trucker shortage in the U.S.


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