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The Aging Pool of Truck Drivers

Retirement age for truckers

Image is by German illustrator:Timo Grubing

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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By: Allen Smith

Allen Smith is a 37 year veteran who started at an early age in a household goods family moving business. He began driving straight trucks in 1977 and moved to the big rigs in 1982. His experience within the industry includes; owner operator, company driver, operations manager, and owner of a long distance HHG moving business, taking many of the long haul moves himself when needed. Allen Smith, a truck driver advocate who is driven by the desire to help others succeed within an industry where injustice, unrewarded sacrifice, and lack of respect and recognition exists. Allen and his wife Donna are hosts of Truth About Trucking ”Live” on Blog Talk Radio. Other websites include AskTheTrucker, TruckingSocialMedia, NorthAmericanTruckingALerts, TruthAboutTrucking, and many Social Media websites. In 2011 Allen and Donna hosted the first Truck Driver Social Media Convention, designed to create unity and solutions for the trucking industry. This is now being extended through the North American Trucking Alerts network as those within the industry join forces for the betterment of the industry. Allen strongly supports other industry advocates who are also stepping up to the plate to help those who share honesty, guidance and direction. He believes that all those involved in trucking need to be accountable for their part within the industry, including drivers, carriers, brokers, shippers, receivers, etc… The list of supporters and likeminded people grow daily, networking together and sharing thoughts and ideas for the betterment of trucking. He has coined the popular phrase "Raising the standards of the trucking industry"

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18 Responses to The Aging Pool of Truck Drivers. - Post a Comment

  1. Tony Cantero

    Go to any truckstop, and you will observe that the only older truckers in their late 50s (or beyond) are O/Os (owner-operators). Most companies DO NOT hire truckers when they reach their late 50s? Statistics show they are accidents waiting to happen. As for these geriatric O/O truckers; higher insurance premiums, cargo requiring physical handling (heavy labor by the driver), and pain/discomfort that comes with advance age compels them to voluntarily retire themselves from trucking.

    • Steve Beauregard

      Tony, You do not know what you are talking about. I would guess by your post that you are one of the “younger Guys”, that thinks he has all the answers. The guy that thinks he can’t make a living driving a truck, unless he is always runs just as fast as he can, and ignoring HOS rule, and CSA regs etc. Your motto is “Gotta Go, Gotta Go”. Any truck stop lunch counter is full of your kind.

      Well you are wrong about all of it. There is no substitute for experience. You think we are too slow and only get in your way when we obey the rules and the laws (speed limits for instance). Most of us take the job very seriously, and drive with good sense and obey the rules laid out. And still make a good living. It can be done, but like anything else it takes time, education and experience.

      Most drivers entering the industry today are in their late 40’s or 50’s. Younger people don’t want to put up with the low pay and long hours and don’t have the discipline that long haul trucking requires.

      The reason that many older drivers are owner-operators is that they want to be responsible for their own future. And as a result they are responsible for their success or failure.

      Sad, but true that a driver in his late 50’s has a harder time getting hired. But thats not news to anyone. That is true in almost all fields. Employers want young. And they want CHEAP labor. And thats nothing new either.

      When you mature you will understand.

    • Older Wannabe

      This economy has left me on the poor farm and I want out. My problem is that I would like to drive truck and I am 71 years of age. Do you think I might have any kind of chance getting a job if I get through driving school even if I can sign up for truck driving school?
      I am a conscientious driver and I think of driving any vehicle as a job requiring full attention. Thanks for any info you can give me….

    • larmar

      Older truck drivers hired everyday. Maybe not at Swift trucking where you work.

    • Rocky

      I see more car repair shops in university towns than any other. I would suggest investing in a 30 year clean driving record over an unstable inexperienced testosterone filled youth, any day.

  2. grumpy bear

    New England Journal of Medicine reports, every year,250,000 deaths in the business of medicine & is not age dependent. How many avoidable yearly deaths occur with truckers? Not even close.Yes,as we humans age,our odometers gain mileage & performance diminishes especially dependent upon what we put in our tanks,& how much rest we give our engines.Let the truckers drive & self monitor.Also,as healthy as Jack LaLanne was,he did not carry his own coffin to his funeral,so there are limits.

  3. […] links Forcing truck drivers into retirement | Ask The Trucker When is a professional truck driver too old to drive? This question is now being raised even more, […]

  4. Mac

    Actually many of the younger folk dont want to be here. Therefore they are more obsessed with their dislike for the occupation and will reddily break the rules/laws to attempt to make themselves look better. The older drivers have worked long and hard to accomplish what they have and dont want to lose it. Hence they are more willing to be safer to accomplish the work so as to make more money with less risk.

  5. Mac

    The truth of the matter is we cannot allow this stupid government to dictate to us when we must retire. That being said, from someone who thought he was ready to retire at 62,at 64 I am ready to return to the work force. All I needed was a break to prove to myself that I needed to work as it is all I know how to do.I have spent the last 2 years being bored, lazy, and looking to the day I could return to work. The only thing stopping me now is a wife, who never worked since we have been married, who does not want me to go back. She is a wonderful women but does not see what it is that drives me to want to work, since for the last 43 years all she has done is the home and kids and for the last 20 years there has been no kids.

    • Dave

      Hi Mac-I really like what you have to say. I was fortunate enough to be able to retire a couple of years ago after 30 plus years in law enforcement. Yes, guess I’m the enemy here. But at 54 years old, I love our late great buddy, George Jones “I don’t need your rockin chair” and have often thought I would love to drive for a few years. Yes, my wife also thinks I’m crazy but I completely understand what you are saying. I never worked a 40 hour work week in my world, and am not about to stop now. I’m afraid it would be a one way trip to the lock up for me if I did. Still trying to decide if I want to even try this, but I too would be the old guy obeying the rules. I would have way too much to lose.

  6. James Jarmon

    First off, I’m 37 years old. Been driving a truck 13 years. I have just got to the point were I consider myself a safe drivers. I cant imagine how I survived the first 10 years I was on the road. To be forced off the road at any predetermined age is nonsense. Most drivers know when its time to get off the road, and the ones that don’t get told by there doctors. No need for another law.

    Now, as for hiring a driver in his 50s, that’s a no brainier. If he’s been driving for 20 years, and hasn’t lost his license yet, he’ll probably be one of your best.

    We need to put the freedom back in the open road. Let the driver get out and do the job. He gets paid to drive the truck. Not count the load pieces, or pull pallets. We have younger backs for that.

    And to the seniors. Don’t look down on an auto-shift, or a Volvo just because you think it sounds like something you wife should be riding around in. If you want to stay in this business, take care of your body, and that means eat right, sleep right, and get out of the damn truck and talk to the younger guys. You can teach them more than there driving school instructors did, and they know the tech that makes you more money.

    • jim

      How about someone who is 56 and never drove before but wants something not so hard as construction work?

      I would have no problem with a mandatory medical physical annually to determine if I should be on the road or not.

  7. Sam Ma

    I am a 56 year old Woman. And I am seriously considering over the road truck driving, I have always loved to drive long Distances, and have very fond memories, driving town to town . I am a good driver and have read the commercial truck driving manual you get at the DMV at least 4 times, I have made myself aware of the importance of “safety first” and I truley believe that I have the mental capacity to do the job safely. . I have been paying for my own training. and I am interested in comments I see men my age going though training as well.

  8. […] to retire at a certain age? Many folks have hotly have debated the topic. Some point out that commercial airline pilots can’t fly beyond 65. Should truck drivers be put under the same age limit? If so, what should it be? Some food for […]

  9. Senior Trucker

    Copied from above
    “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.”
    That was the accidents in which senior truckers were involved.
    Now! How about posting the accidents that the younger generation truckers were involved. How about the ones caught with drugs and/or booze. I could post a bunch from a never ending list.
    I’m a senior. I take care of my health. I work hard and play hard.
    When I drive and or instruct, I do it by the book. I have had some of the younger generation in the truck with me and they are and do some of the stupidest crap I have ever seen. I have seen some more mature drivers do some stupid things too. And YES! I have left them at a truck stop, with their baggage.
    It is not just the senior drivers that make mistakes. So get off your high and mighty. Seniors are not the problem.
    ATTITUDE is the biggest problem out there. Complete disrespect for the law, the rules and regulations.

  10. Norman Letinski

    Well, I’m 68 years of age. Left trucking 10 years ago and opened a gym. I miss and would love to get back into driving which I hope to do this spring. As for this age thing- I’ve trained people in their 30’s and 40’s that could barely make it up a flight of stairs or even had trouble sitting up. not old age, just terrible shape!!!!!!! Can’t wait to get back out there!

  11. […] 70s and really take off for those in their 80s. So there is something to be said for imposing a mandatory retirement age or at least tougher licensing requirements on truckers ages 70 and […]

  12. Richard Orton

    I received free otr (dedicated) driving class and associated mentorship at Swift Trucking back in ’06 or ’07 I believe it was (I was around 62 or 63 years old at the time)… was about to pick up my own truck but decided against it due to having a newer wife who was seriously family oriented… I didn’t want to ruin that for her…

    Anyway, that was many years ago… Am an able-bodied 76 at the moment and have been reading about all the trucking companies wanting drivers now… I love driving and enjoyed it thoroughly during my previous mentorship program… Would love to have another go at it again… Would be great if I could go back to Swift, pick up another trainer, and get set up again to run dedicated routes… probably wishful thinking though… Thanks for letting me rant… 🙂

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