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Status Report, Vol. 36, No. 10 | November 15, 2001 Subscribe

Don't permit interstate truck drivers younger than 21

The Institute strongly opposes a proposal to lower the minimum age requirement for drivers of large trucks. "Research consistently has found that young truck drivers have very high crash risks relative to older truck drivers, including strikingly elevated risks for involvement in fatal and serious injury crashes," says Institute senior researcher Elisa Braver. Yet the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) has petitioned the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for a pilot program to permit drivers younger than 21 to operate large trucks across state lines.

For a number of reasons, the Institute objects:

  • TCA says there are "no crash data for commercial drivers under age 21," but Braver points to ample research from studies of young drivers legally permitted to operate trucks within state boundaries or in other countries. Studies in the United States and Australia report fatal crash rates 4 to 6 times as high for young truckers compared with older drivers. Similar increases have been observed for crashes resulting in serious injuries or property damage.
  • TCA's proposal would require training of young drivers, which TCA says "has never before been a precondition for commercial licensing." However, numerous studies have shown the limited efficacy of driver training in reducing crash risks (see Status Report special issue: what works and doesn't work to improve highway safety, May 19, 2001).
  • TCA and others argue that younger truck drivers can carry out their duties responsibly because, after all, the military relies on 18-20 year-olds to operate trucks and weapons systems. Yet research published last year indicates that soldiers younger than 21 are hospitalized for motor vehicle injuries at about 5 times the rate of soldiers older than 40. The Center for Army Lessons Learned reported that during Desert Storm and Desert Shield "young truck drivers often traveled up and down main supply routes at hazardous speeds. This accounted for several unnecessary deaths." These findings aren't surprising, Braver points out, "given the well-documented risks that are seen with other young drivers."
  • TCA's proposal is viewed by some as a form of graduated licensing. But this isn't a good comparison, Braver says. Graduated licensing for young passenger vehicle drivers is designed to reduce the high crash risk of people who already are part of the driving population, while TCA would introduce a new group of high-risk drivers into the ranks of long-haul truckers.
  • The Institute questions the validity of the data that would be generated from the pilot program. To produce valid data, there would need to be a comparison group with similar travel patterns, an adequate sample size, thorough and objective methods of data collection, and a valid plan for statistical analysis. TCA's petition provides no evidence that any of these essential criteria would be met.

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