Trucker 5548 Youngdriver

18 Years Old and Truckin’

Sept. 2, 2015
Allowing younger drivers to take 40 tons cross-country is a double-edged sword

As baby boomer truck drivers exit the industry, trucking is struggling to find suitable replacements willing to drive OTR. Younger workers have different priorities than those from the boomer generation.

Many of today’s newer truck drivers want to be home at least every weekend and would prefer to be home each night. Most OTR trucking positions require at least two weeks out, and many up to two months, before drivers can return home. The younger generations don’t look at their careers as the main focus in life. Leisure time is their priority. I’ve seen millennials quit great-paying jobs because the job required too much time away from family and friends.
Frankly, people with this mind-set don’t last two weeks as OTR drivers. The industry is now reaching in many directions to help solve the problem.
However, the biggest issue facing the industry still remains the age-old problem of driver turnover. There are many contributors to this, including home time, regulations and pay.

Regulations are tough: 14 hours to accomplish 11 hours of driving and all of the unloading, loading, fueling, waiting to be assigned loads, truck safety inspections, etc. Then the trucker must take a 10-hour rest break before starting another 14-hour day. The 14-hour clock can’t ever be turned off. And a trucker can only be on-duty driving or not driving for 70 hours in any eight-day period. The regs are lengthy and very specific with little to no leeway for mistakes—and new regs are added constantly.

Trucking isn’t covered under the Fair Labor standards, so there is no minimum wage. Most truckers are paid by the mile and the more miles you travel in the 14/11 hours per day, the bigger the paycheck. Here’s the interesting part: the more dangerous the driving conditions, the slower a trucker is able to travel, and the less pay he/she earns.

The large number of multi-vehicle accidents involving semi-trucks this past winter is a great—and unfortunate— example of the consequences of the 14-hour rule. Truckers won’t stop for bad weather as it costs them pay. So, they stay on the road when they should be parked, all because they can’t turn off the14-hour clock and wait out the bad weather.

The turnover starts churning here. Drivers get unhappy with their pay and leave one trucking company for another in hopes of finding one where they can be fairly compensated for their time. Because of the unrelenting government regs, however, there is no real difference. All carriers operate under the same regulations, so eventually many drivers just abandon their trucking careers.

And now some trucking interests, working with Congress, want to allow 18-year-olds behind the wheel of 40 tons of truck and freight to haul interstate freight.

Let’s look at some interesting government statistics concerning the 16- to 20-year-old automobile drivers in the U.S. (At this time,there’s no breakdown available for 18- to 20-year-old drivers.)

From the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for young adults ages 16 to 20.

Young adults between the ages of 16 and 20 are more likely to be killed and injured in motor vehicle crashes than children and youth from birth to age 15. In 2002, of the 7,410 children, youth, and young adults from birth through age 20 who were killed in motor vehicle crashes, 76% were 16- to 20-year-olds; of the 729,207 injured from birth to age 20, 65% were 16- to 20-year-olds.

In 2008, 12% (5,864) of all drivers involved in fatal crashes (50,186) were 15- to 20-year-olds, and 14% (1,429,000) of all drivers involved in police-reported crashes (10,081,000) were young drivers.

From the Centers for Disease Control and prevention:
In 2011, about 2,650 teens aged 16-19 in the U.S. were killed and almost 292,000 were treated in emergency departments for injuries suffered in motor-vehicle crashes.

Young people ages 15-24 represent only 14% of the U.S. population; however, they account for 30% ($19 billion) of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries among males and 28% ($7 billion) of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries among females.

The CDC listed the following factors putting 16- to 20-year-old drivers at a higher risk than older drivers:

  • Teens are more likely than older drivers to underestimate dangerous situations or not be able to recognize hazardous situations.
  • Teens are more likely than older drivers to speed and allow shorter headways (the distance from the front of one vehicle to the front of the next). The presence of male teenage passengers increases the likelihood of this risky driving behavior.
  • Among male drivers between 15 and 20 years of age who were involved in fatal crashes in 2012, 37% were speeding at the time of the crash and 25% had been drinking.
  • Compared with other age groups, teens have the lowest rate of seat belt use. In 2013, only 55% of high school students reported they always wear seat belts when riding with someone else.

Now add a big rig to the mix and there’s a potential increase in catastrophic traffic accidents involving semi-trucks. This is especially worrisome if the current truck driving ‘training regimen’ of three to six weeks continues once 18- to 20-year-olds are allowed to apply for interstate CDLs.

This isn’t to say 18- to 20-year-olds shouldn’t be allowed to drive OTR; however, the entire truck driver training requirements system would need to be changed. In a column I wrote almost four years ago, I suggested a graduated system with testing requirements between each level: student, trainee, apprentice, journeyman and master trucker.

Let’s give the next crop of truck drivers intensive, superior training so they can drive into their retirement years instead of a fatal wreck.

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