The US is facing a truck driver shortage of epic proportions. Will reducing the age for a Commercial Drivers License from 21 to 18 or 19 help solve this problem?
Dallas, TX -- (ReleaseWire) -- 03/10/2015 --The American Trucking Association (ATA) estimates that the trucking industry currently needs 25,000 drivers to keep up with demand. By 2020, the ATA expects a shortfall of 240,000 drivers. There are several reasons for this, including an improving economy, new hours of service regulations, and the fact that many older drivers are approaching retirement age.
The ATA used to have a slogan: "If you bought it, a truck brought it." Trains, barges, and planes (and maybe even drones) can deliver freight, but we always need a driver to deliver it for the final mile.
This issue isn't just about having goods on shelves in stores. There's a good chance that if we don't increase the driver candidate pool, consumers will pay more at the cash register. Driver pay has lagged behind US wages for years. Per the ATA, major carriers are increasing pay by 10 – 15%, and they anticipate further increases.
These increases are long overdue for drivers who are basically paid to live in a box and sleep in a parking lot. Low wages may have also kept our prices as consumers artificially low. Will lowering the age for a Commercial Drivers License help the trucking industry attract and hire more drivers?
Implement a Graduated CDL
Federal regulations require drivers to be at least 21 years old to be eligible for a Commercial Drivers License (CDL). By that age most people have already chosen alternative careers.
Almost every state allows drivers between 18 – 21 years of age to obtain a license to drive a truck intra-state. These licenses come with vehicle weight and restrictions on the type of freight that can be hauled. The problem is that since the CDL age is 21, insurance carriers may be reluctant to write policies for trucking companies that employ younger drivers who don't hold a CDL.
The ATA supports a graduated CDL license to help attract people to the profession. In a recent blog, the USA CDL Truck Driving School in Orlando reported that David Osiecki, the ATA's executive VP and Chief of National Advocacy, delivered a keynote address at the 2015 Technology and Maintenance Council. During that address Osiecki stated, "the driver shortage is as bad as it's ever been." He added that the ATA is "focusing anew upon lowering the allowable age for obtaining a commercial driver's license to 18 or 19 years. " Osiecki further noted, "We believe lowering the age and offering a conditional CDL with oversight and monitoring will allow the industry to better address the driver shortage. Now, not every 18 or 19 year old is suited to drive a truck; we all get that. But we think this can be done in a responsible way."
Before the CDL was enacted in 1992 we had a lot of data on truck drivers who were under 21. Accidents followed a typical "U", with younger drivers and older drivers having the most accidents. As an example, here's a chart with typical passenger vehicle accident rates by age. Younger drivers and older drivers make up each end of the "U".
This begs the question: is the "U" accident pattern replicated in truck drivers? The short answer is: we don't know. Due to budget cuts in 2010, the National Highway Safety Administration stopped collecting some data on driver age that was part of the "Trucks Involved in Fatal Accidents" reporting that was formerly performed by the University of Michigan on behalf of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).
Nighttime Driving and Other Factors
While researching this article, Daniel Blower, Associate Research Scientist at the University of Michigan provided a paper that one of his colleagues, Professor Kenneth Campbell, wrote back in 1991. The paper determined that younger drivers had a higher accident rate, but concluded that the causes for this remained unknown. Campbell noted that nighttime driving, inexperience, and lack of training might all possibly contribute to the higher accident rates, but that further studies were needed. Interestingly, two major causes of teen accidents (alcohol consumption and driving with peers) didn't seem to contribute to young truck drivers' accident rates.
A graduated CDL could address the nighttime driving and experience factors. Many states already limit teen drivers to daylight hours, contain a night curfew, and require an experienced driver to be in the passenger seat. These requirements could be part of a graduated CDL licensing program.
Some of us remember when seat belts were optional and cars had to be special ordered to include them. Now we have anti-lock brakes, airbags, and sensors in cars and commercial motor vehicles. These were options 20 years ago, and 30 years ago they were considered experimental technologies. Now these are standard features in most vehicles, which keep both truck drivers and car passengers safer and contribute to falling fatal vehicular accident rates (per 100 million miles driven).
Trucks also have sophisticated GPS and other tracking devices, so it's a lot easier to monitor driver locations, speed, and activities. The University of Iowa is already experimenting with night vision enhancements for older drivers. If successful, this technology may also benefit young truck drivers.
Replicate Military Training
Thousands of military veterans are being discharged from the service with military truck driver licenses. Most states have made it easier to transfer these licenses into CDLs. Unfortunately this doesn't help veterans who are under 21 and who are not old enough to qualify for a CDL.
We know that the military is doing something right. They can transform 18-year-old recruits into safe truck drivers. As stressful as rush hour traffic is in major US cities, it's nothing compared to driving in a military convoy on a road strewn with IEDs and enemy combatants. Surely we can hire truck drivers who are veterans even if they are under 21 years of age.
We can thank the military and NASA for so many technological improvements in our lives. Perhaps we can capitalize on the military's training expertise. Let's solicit the military's assistance, and replicate a world class training program that can transform 18 or 19 year olds into professional truck drivers.
We Need Industry to Collaborate
In this era of political gridlock, perhaps carriers, the ATA, and the insurance industry should collaborate on a framework for a graduated CDL program that it can present to the DOT. The DOT already requires certain on-the-job training for new drivers. Carriers already have the burden of ensuring that their drivers are properly trained, and many operate truck driving schools. A graduated CDL program is a good solution to this critical problem.
Are you having a hard time attracting driver candidates? We're always happy to review your processes and help you identify innovative driver recruiting solutions.
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