With the amount of industry and mainstream press on the truck driver shortage in the U.S., and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s recent update to its Safe Driver Apprenticeship Program, many in trucking are keenly interested in understanding the safety performance of certain, pre-qualified 18-20 year old drivers when operating in interstate commerce.

However, many in the trucking industry may not yet be aware of a recent ‘younger driver’ study published in April by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute’s (VTTI) and National Surface Transportation Safety Center for Excellence.  This new study titled, “Investigating Attributes of Young, Inexperienced Commercial Motor Vehicle Drivers,” utilized a dataset from a prior commercial driver risk factors study, which included over 1,000 drivers aged 25 years or younger observed over three years, to tease out the safety attributes of younger inexperienced drivers (ages 21-25).

The study investigated  the safety attributes (e.g., carrier-recorded crashes, carrier-recorded preventable crashes, government recorded  crashes, and moving violations) of young CMV drivers (ages 21-25) to highlight differences in driver-related factors, health-related variables such as medical conditions and treatment status, along with demographic characteristics that may have safety implications. The study found few statistically significant factors associated with increased safety event risk among the studied cohort.  Other interesting key findings are:

  • a majority of young drivers did not have a safety-related event;
    • 86% did not have a carrier-recorded crash;
    • 92% did not have a carrier-recorded preventable crash;
    • 92% did not have a nationally recorded crash; and
    • 90% did not have a moving violation.
  • younger drivers who reported an out-of-service violation in the past 3 years were 3 times the risk of being involved in a crash recorded in a national database.
  • younger drivers with a doubles/triples endorsement had higher odds of carrier-recorded and nationally recorded crash involvement compared to drivers without this endorsement.

As younger, less-experienced drivers are provided more opportunities to start an interstate trucking career, it’s important for our government, academic organizations and industry groups to continue to investigate and better understand the younger commercial driver age groups, their potential risk factors, and what factors may need more study.  While traditional wisdom has been that younger drivers are less safe than their older counter parts, studies like this are calling this paradigm into question, especially when training and experience are considered. More study is necessary, and VTTI’s approach to using old data to answer new questions is a great way to jumpstart the conversation.