There's been a shortage of long-haul truck drivers for much of the last 15 years. This isn't surprising given the growing demand for ground transportation of goods coupled with the strenuous nature of the job. However, as younger potential drivers refuse to consider this line of work, the industry is turning towards another employable population: retirees. Because of cuts in retirement benefits and pensions in recent years, many retirees find it necessary to look for work in order to survive.
While this may seem like an ideal match and the perfect solution to the shortage, many people are concerned about the ability of older drivers to safely handle a big rig.
How Bad Is the Shortage?
According to the American Trucking Associations (ATA), the current shortage of truckers is estimated to be at nearly 48,000. The average age of truckers today is 49, indicating an aging population that will only make the industry shortage worse in a few years. If current trends continue, the ATA reports, the shortage could reach almost 175,000 by 2024.
A lack of truck drivers has a widespread effect on the economy, as nearly 70 percent of all freight tonnage is transported over the road by truck drivers. To keep this freight moving, the industry is willing to hire almost anyone who can meet the minimum qualifications to drive.
Qualifications Do Not Include a Maximum Age
A recent CBS News report found that 10 percent of commercial vehicle operators in the U.S. are 65 and older, and that trucking companies are actively recruiting retirees to fill their many job openings. Unlike the aviation industry, which requires pilots to retire at 65, there are no age limits placed on commercial truck drivers.
To get a commercial driver’s license (CDL), applicants must pass minimum requirements, which include the following:
- Clean driving record for the last 10 years
- Department of Transportation physical and medical card
- Successful completion of skills tests, including Vehicle Inspection Test, Basic Controls Test, and Road Test
While employers may require additional qualifications, these are the federal minimum standards. The minimum age for in-state trucking is 18, and drivers must be 21 to cross state lines as a commercial driver. However, there isn't a maximum age for applying and, as long as the applicant has passed the medical exam and has a clean driving record, many trucking companies have no problem hiring drivers well over the age of 65.
Are Older Drivers a Safe Solution?
The CBS News report cites several examples of 70-year-old truck drivers causing catastrophic and fatal accidents. While risk factors such as fatigue, alcohol and drug impairment, and distraction can affect truckers of any age, the National Institutes of Health cites several concerns that apply specifically to older drivers, including the following:
- Stiff joints and muscles. As people age, their joints may get stiff and muscles may weaken. Arthritis, which is common among older adults, might affect their ability to drive. These conditions could make it hard for a truck driver to turn steering wheel quickly or to brake safely.
- Trouble seeing. While an applicant may be able to pass a vision test in order to get a CDL, vision can deteriorate rapidly among older adults. Sensitivity to light—oncoming headlights or sunlight—can increase with age and eye diseases such as cataracts and glaucoma are more common.
- Slower reaction time and reflexes. Older drivers can experience delays in reaction time behind the wheel. This means they may not be able to stop or swerve quickly enough to avoid an accident. Reacting to emergency situations takes even more time in a semi-truck than in a car, so older truck drivers may be more likely to cause an accident due to slow reaction times.
In addition, older drivers are more likely to suffer from conditions that could impair their ability to drive safely, despite the federal requirement for periodic medical tests.
If You Were Hit by a Trucker, We Can Help
Whether the trucker who caused your accident was over 65 or not, you'll need an experienced truck accident attorney on your side. If you were injured, or a loved one was killed in a truck crash, connect with us though the link on this page to learn more about our services.