Following a reported truck driver shortage of 60,000 drivers at the end of 2018 and a two-year delay of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s entry-level driver training rule, the industry is hoping better training and mentoring will help younger truckers to fill the gap as older truck drivers continue to retire.
“We have challenges coming our way in the next decade, such as a greater problem with current drivers retiring,” said FMCSA Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee member and senior vice president of safety, security, and driver personnel at J.B. Hunt Transport, Greer Woodruff. The Safety Advisory Committee recently commissioned the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute to analyze correlations between age and safety among truckers. According to said study, there is “no safety-based reason not to use younger drivers when structured training, mentoring, and coaching systems are in place.”
The data, which was pretended to MCSAC in mid-July, included information from more than 9,000 truckers between the ages of 21 and 64, and found that a greater driver safety impact is found with driving experience as opposed to age. MCSAC is a panel of 18 people that aims to provide recommendations to FMCSA’s administrator on motor carrier safety programs and motor carrier safety regulations.
“What we found was experience seemed to be a bigger factor on driving risk,” said Susan Soccolich of VTTI, who conducted research for the study. “If there is a notion that 21-to-24-year-olds might be a high-risk group, we don’t feel that our study found that relationship.”
The research committee was asked to look into the older demographics of the professional driver workforce within trucking and bus industries, and to find whether or not this trend will “exacerbate the driver shortage problem.”
Last year, American Trucking Associations reported that 60,000 truckers were needed by the end of 2018, making for the largest driver shortage ever for the country.
“Over the past 15 years, we’ve watched the shortage rise and fall with economic trends, but it ballooned last year to the highest level we’ve seen to date,” said Chief Economist for ATA, Bob Costello, at the time.
The report said the trucking industry would work to hire at least 1.1 million new truckers by 2029, with an average of 110,000 per year.
To help with onboarding difficulties, the FMCSA delayed a long-awaited Entry Level Driver Training rule until February 2022. This rule was meant to ensure new truckers would meet minimum training requirements before being allowed their commercial driver licenses.
“This action will provide FMCSA additional time to complete development of the Training Provider Registry,” said the agency in late January. “The TPR will allow training providers to self-certify that they meet the training requirements and will provide the electronic interface that will receive and store entry-level driver training certification information from training providers and transmit that information to the state driver licensing agencies.”
FMCSA stakeholders have continually expressed their concern regarding the shortage, and have discussed options to allow younger drivers to enter the trucking workforce. With many commercial motor vehicle driver retirements coming up quickly, carriers are looking for younger, long-term truck drivers to become their replacements.
ATA’s study explored safety performance of differently-aged drivers with similar experience levels, and also compared drivers with different levels of experience within the same age groups.
Additionally, the study assessed safety performance through Motor Carrier Management Information System crash involvement and moving violation involvement, along with carrier-recorded crash involvement.
Some of the major issues explored by MCSAC were how aging workers could affect a carrier’s ability to efficiently deliver goods safely, the impact of older drivers on supply chains, what the workforce looks like for the future, how the impacts of aging workforces can be mitigated, and the role FMCSA plays in these efforts of change.
Although VTTI’s research showed younger drivers could match older drivers’ safety performances, many panel members disagreed.
Gary Catapano, committee member and employee of the National School Transportation Association, said that those believing VTTI’s research could be easily persuaded to trust it for guidance. “The research should be used with a high degree of caution,” he warned.
Committee member and vice president of Clark Freight Lines Inc., Danny Schnautz, agreed. “We see a correlation between maturity and experience being the safer driver,” he said. “Typically, maturity comes with age.”