Out of the approximate four million active truck drivers in the United States, about 1.3 million are long haul truckers. Comparing studies taken back in 2000 and 2001, I would estimate that the average age of the current over the road truck driver would come in around 52.4 years of age. As the baby boomers age, we are beginning to see the move by safety advocates and attorneys alike, calling for a mandatory retirement age for the professional truck driver. They believe that truckers should be required by law to retire at the age of 65. Their claims have only been intensified by recent headline news:
- In July 2008, a 71 year old trucker ran into vehicles on I-75 in Michigan, killing 19 year old Kara Joan Larivee of Rochester Hills.
- In late 2009, another 70 year old truck driver, again in Michigan, crossed the center line and collided with a Chevy Tahoe. Three people were killed, including the driver.
- In mid 2009, an elderly truck driver ran into another car in New Jersey, killing five.
When is a professional truck driver too old to drive? This question is now being raised even more, based on the ruling that airline pilots now have a mandatory retirement at the age of 65. In a battle that dates back to the 1960’s, commercial airline pilots were to retire at age 60. The ruling, which took effect in February 2007, actually raised their retirement age to 65. Now, many want the same ruling to apply to professional truck drivers.
Armed with studies that verify that age has a direct effect on driving skills such as vision, reflex movement and the processing of information, a safety movement is in motion once again, to call for a mandatory retirement age on truck drivers. In a past study on how age effects ones driving skills, the study showed that drivers age 65 and older are 16% more likely to cause an accident, while drivers 25 years of age and younger . . . showed a whopping 188% more chance to be the direct cause of a vehicle accident. This study was based on personal auto driving, so how would it compare with drivers of semi tractor-trailer rigs?
Recent studies by independent research firms such as the Institute of Advanced Motorists’ and Workers Comp Insider, came to the same conclusion: overall, older drivers proved safer than their younger counter parts. Older drivers tended to be more cautious, adjusting their speed and so-forth. Younger drivers showed to be more aggressive and often oblivious to their surroundings. However, due to the large differences between a 3000 pound vehicle and a 80,000 pound rig . . . should truck drivers be forced to retire at a mandated age?
Depending on the type of pilot certificate held, all pilots are required to pass a medical exam and perform a biennial flight review. A pilot certificate never expires, but in order to keep it current, certain tests must be performed by the certificate holder. For example, I have a Private Pilot SEL certificate. To keep current with FAA rules, I must have a current medical card and meet certain currency requirements, such as performing a certain number of “touch and go” landings or full stop landings to meet night flying requirements, within a particular time frame. Furthermore, every two years I have to take the BFR and perform certain flying techniques as requested by the flight instructor. The instructor has to sign off that I have met the requirements of the FAA in order to state that I am current with my flying skills and that I even possess the skills required to carry passengers while flying. As the type of pilot certificate increases . . . the more restrictions are placed on the pilot in order to maintain their currency. You can only imagine what airline pilots have to go through in order to stay current.
Although there is much difference between a Freightliner and a 747, should this be the norm for truck drivers? Should truckers who have reached a certain age, be required to have an efficiency test by a certified, endorsed driving instructor? Not a driver that has been given the title of “driver trainer” by their company, but one who has gone through a state certified driving instructor course. The elderly driver being tested would be allowed to continue driving, only if the instructor “signs off” just as in the case of a pilot. Furthermore, it would have to work as it does with aircraft pilots . . . whatever the instructor says . . . that is how it is. The FAA and their licensed examiners do not play around, nor do they take anything off of anybody.
More regulations and restrictions on truck drivers? I would be the first to say that there are already too many, but is there an answer to whether or not older truck drivers should be required to automatically retire at the age of 65? I know drivers in their seventies who can run circles around me . . . but what is the solution for either stopping or continuing with this issue that is wanting to force professional truck drivers into retirement?
Something to think about . . .
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© 2010, Allen Smith. All rights reserved.