I recently met with a group of private and for-hire safety executives to review our “best practices” strategy for identifying and managing at-risk drivers.
It should come as no surprise that I'm a big proponent of stringent eligibility criteria for driver candidates, as well as current drivers. In addition, I've long-supported a three-spoke driver management philosophy that includes attitude and behavior assessment, skills enhancement, and safety performance monitoring. Such an approach has repeatedly yielded significantly lower crash rates across a diverse mix of operations.
But let's get back to the meeting for a moment. One executive mentioned that his firm had just relaxed its hiring standards for drivers by lowering the minimum age from 23 to 21 and reducing required driving experience from two years to one. “How do you expect us to maintain your proposed hiring standards when we're selecting from a bottom-of-the-barrel applicant pool?” he asked.
With this stinging remark burned fresh in my mind, I decided to analyze — albeit unscientifically — the relationship between driver age and safety performance data, e.g., higher crash rates, as well as driver and vehicle out-of-service rates.
In this month's column, I'd like to report my findings with respect to driver age.
I used information from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's “Analysis and Information Online” web site (http://ai.volpe.dot.gov).
The “Crash Profiles Online” section contains a 1999-2001 state and national summary of fatal truck crashes by driver age, while the “Program Measures” segment contains a 1999 summary of inspections and driver and vehicle out-of-service rates by similar driver ages.
I combined those files, which contained information on 5.32-million inspections and 10,132 fatal crashes, to create the table below.
It looks like we've got some pretty interesting information. First, the “Inspections” column can be used to approximate the age distribution of the driver workforce, since theoretically age has no bearing on whether a driver is selected for a random roadside inspection.
If we assume that's correct, then the majority (62.7%)) of drivers are under age 46. However, that demographic changed during 1999-2001. The number of younger drivers (under 46) declined from 65.2% in 1999 to 62.7% in 2001.
Second, the data confirms that safety performance improves with age. For example, drivers under age 26 experienced the highest driver and vehicle out-of-service rates, while those in the 56-65 category experienced the lowest.
Third, and most important, younger drivers appear to be disproportionately involved in fatal truck crashes. Drivers under age 26 represent 5.66% of all drivers, yet they're involved in 6.45% of all fatal crashes. According to the Volpe data, this trend continues through age 35. Drivers in the over-55 group also appear to be disproportionately involved in fatal crashes.
I don't deny that these findings are unscientific. But they do lead to some interesting observations. First, we must provide innovative crash reduction and roadside safety performance training for younger drivers. Second, current training and management techniques may be short-sighted, since trends point to an evolving age demographic.
Hmm. Younger drivers are leaving the industry and younger drivers need more training. Any chance these findings are related? Perhaps drivers are leaving because they feel we're not investing in their future success through effective training and support. It's certainly something to think about.
Look for Part II of my analysis next month.
Jim York is the manager of Zurich Service Corp.'s Risk Engineering Transportation Team, based in Schaumburg, IL.