Having been a party to the debate over entry-level driver training and whether younger drivers can safely operate an 80,000 lb. truck in interstate commerce, what’s always struck STC is the limited applicable research on the impact of training and driving experience on CMV safety. While it’s an accepted fact that car drivers under the age of 25 are less safe than their middle-aged counterparts, scant attention has been paid to the professional truck driver and how age, training and experience might impact safety. Until now. . .
In April 2020, the National Surface Transportation Safety Center for Excellence released a study evaluating safety risk through the prism of driver age AND experience. The study, authored by familiar names like Jeffrey Hickman and Rich Hanowski, included data collected from over 21,000 drivers and found that it was driving experience, rather than age, that had a greater impact on driving risk. While this may sound intuitive, it is an important data point in the debate over whether to allow drivers under the age of 21 to operate a large truck across state lines. That’s because the study concluded there is “no safety-based reason not to use younger drivers when structured training, mentoring, and coaching systems are in place.” While this conclusion implies that training can approximate experience, training wasn’t its focus, leaving the conclusion open to some interpretation.
Age is important, but so is experience. The question that remains is whether training can replace experience. This is the next question to be answered before the debate on younger drivers can be settled.