Aging Truck Drivers in the US

You may be aware of the dangers of sharing the road with large commercial vehicles. But did you know that many of the people that drive these enormous rigs are over the age of 65? Aging truck drivers have entered this sector of the workforce with a vengeance and there are many reasons why.

truck driving safety

Investigation into Aging Truck Drivers

A recent investigation by CBS News discovered that retirees age 65 and older make up 10% of the commercial truck driver population in the United States. Additionally, commercial truck accidents involving drivers in their seventies, eighties, and nineties increased by 19% between 2013 and 2015.

The study involved 12 states, which reported almost 7,000 accidents involving older drivers of commercial vehicles in this two-year period. While no data is available on the other 38 states, we can only assume the total numbers are far greater. Why are so many older Americans behind the wheel of commercial vehicles, and what does this deluge of aging truck drivers mean for you and your family?

Aging Truck Drivers Back on the Road

older truck drivers

The trucking industry is experiencing an unprecedented labor shortage, and this shortage has translated to the hiring of drivers in their seventies, eighties, and even nineties. As long as drivers can pass a mandatory physical to obtain their Commercial Driver’s License, they can be hired.

Driving any motor vehicle is a complicated task, and one’s ability to drive safely generally decreases with age. Driving a commercial vehicle adds another layer of challenge to the task of driving because of the size, weight, and limited maneuverability of many commercial vehicles.

According to the American Trucker Association, in 2015 the driver shortage was expected to be 48,000. Because the industry has a high turnover rate, companies struggle to keep a fleet of qualified drivers on the road.

CBS News states that trucking schools are actively recruiting senior drivers, who may be looking for income and benefits in their retirement. A Pennsylvania agency recruiting older drivers openly defended this practice to CBS News, indicating that the federal trucking industry does not prohibit hiring drivers in their eighties and nineties.

Accidents Involving Aging Truck Drivers

A recent accident involving two New Jersey Transit buses involved a 70-year-old bus driver. Two people died, including the older driver as well as a passenger on the other bus.

truck accident

How do we know that the driver’s age was a factor in the accident? Though we can’t be sure, aging may affect a driver’s cognitive functioning, vision, hearing, and reaction time. Driving is a complicated task that requires quick reflexes and the ability to integrate information swiftly and accurately. According to the National Institute of Health, senior drivers often have increased difficulty with the following:

  • Yielding the right of way
  • Staying in their lane
  • Making a complete stop at a stop sign
  • Not speeding and not driving too slowly
  • Judging timing and distances needed for turns
  • These complications, combined with driving a large commercial vehicle, make for a dangerous combination. Commercial truck drivers can be expected to drive for over 11 hours at a time. The skills needed for driving a semi-truck require drivers to be extremely focused and aware. Because it can take twice as long as to stop a tractor trailer as a regular passenger vehicle, truck drivers need to be quick and agile.

    Pennsylvania Laws on Aging Truck Drivers

    Age discrimination laws are in place to protect older Americans from being discriminated against in the hiring process. Due to the shortage of qualified truck drivers available, it seems unlikely that mandatory retirement ages will be instituted as they have been in the commercial flight industry.

    penndot eye exams and physicals

    Pennsylvania does have some laws in place to prevent accidents due to aging. Doctors are mandated to report to the PA Department of Transportation (PennDOT) any time they diagnose a patient with a condition that could impair driving ability.

    PennDOT randomly performs physical and vision examinations on 2,000 people over age 45 each month, and can impose license restrictions for these individuals if it is found to be necessary. PennDOT also offers “Mature Driver Improvement Courses” which are geared toward helping older Pennsylvanians keep their driving skills fresh. Individuals can report to PennDOT if they suspect another individual might be an unsafe driver.

    Safety Tips When You’re on the Road

    Until stricter regulations are put in place, sharing the road with aging truck drivers is unavoidable. You and your family may be safer on the road if you follow a few simple driving guidelines:

  • Avoid driving in a tractor trailer’s blind spots on the left, right, and back sides of the vehicle. If you can’t see the driver in his mirrors, he can’t see you.
  • Watch for erratic driving. If a trucker seems to be driving unsafely, keep your distance. It is generally a good idea to keep at least 4 car lengths of space between you and a large commercial vehicle.
  • Obey speed limits.
  • If you witness commercial drivers engaged in unsafe practices such as tailgating, speeding, or illegal passing, you can file a complaint with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

    Personal Injury Attorneys for Victims of Truck Accidents

    If you or a loved one has been involved in an accident with a commercial vehicle, contact Donaghue & Labrum for more information about how we can help. Cases like these can be very complex and you need an attorney who will fight to serve your best interests. With decades of experience winning cases, we have proudly served residents of the greater Philadelphia area for 25 years from our offices in Media and West Chester, Pennsylvania. Call us today for a free consultation.