There’s a problem in the trucking industry, one you may not have heard of. Experienced truckers are retiring on mass, and young people aren’t replacing them. This has driven the trucking companies to push for relaxed training regulations. But that’s only part of the issue; to understand the real problem with undertrained truck drivers, we need to understand what’s happening and what it means for highway safety.
Truck drivers are retiring faster than they can be replaced. The average U.S. truck driver is about 55 years old, and most are looking to retire in the next 3-5 years. Recruiting numbers have been declining over the past few decades, and now not only are there fewer experienced truck drivers on the road, but there aren’t enough willing drivers to replace them.
The few young people who join the trucking industry usually don’t stay long. Over the past decade, the average turnover rate for truck drivers has stayed at a steady 96-98%. Of all the truck drivers who join the industry, only a comparative handful stay around long enough to become skilled and safe drivers.
That demographic shift is having a huge impact on highway safety. Although the number of trucks on the road has decreased (due to a lack of drivers), fatal truck accidents have increased by 20% over the past five years. Not only does that mean more lives lost, it means there’s an increased risk of each truck driver being involved in a fatal accident.
In addition to having more trucking accidents, carriers are pressuring drivers to operate their vehicles beyond their comfort levels and even beyond their legal hours of service limits, increasing the risk of a crash caused by driver fatigue. Each year, more and more drivers report pressure from management as a significant contributing factor of driving while fatigued.
While it’s clear the trucking industry has a big problem, it’s also apparent that their solution is less than ideal.
The trucking industry is pulling out all the stops to get people driving for them. Driver compensation packages have increased significantly in the past two years, but there are still more than 80,000 drivers openings, and that number is increasing.
The trucking lobby realized that there was a major barrier to their industry: the commercial driver’s license (CDL). It could take weeks or even months for drivers to be properly trained in handling a tractor-trailer, only for them to leave within a year of employment. So, the trucking industry lobbied the government and worked to significantly reduce the requirements needed to earn a CDL. The argument went that earning a license should be based on driver skill, not time spent in training.
Under the most recent revisions, aspiring truck drivers are not required to attend driving theory classes. Rather, the only requirement for earning a learner’s permit is passing the written test at the DMV. From there, would-be truck drivers can take their driver’s test with just 30 hours of verified behind-the-wheel experience.
While this is getting more truckers on the road, it’s questionable as to whether this is the best move for highway safety. More inexperienced truck drivers increase the risk of a catastrophic or fatal accident. If drivers aren’t required to learn basic theory, they may not fully grasp how their blind spots work, what to do in an emergency, or how to make a wide turn without side-swiping other vehicles.
The CDL changes are a minor fix to a very big problem and one that may actually cause more crashes and more tragedies in the long run.
If you or someone you love suffered serious injuries or wrongful death in a trucking accident, we are here for you. To discuss your crash with an experienced Kansas City Truck accident attorney from Shamberg, Johnson & Bergman, send us an email or call us at (816) 542-5999 for a free consultation.