Age and Safety

When your teenager begins to drive and you add him or her to your car insurance, what happens to your rates? They go up. Why? Because any number of statistics show a direct relationship between age and driving safety. Younger drivers crash at a higher rate than more experienced, mature drivers. Therefore, you pay more to insure a younger driver. Most insurance companies don’t cut young drivers a break on rates until they reach 25 or 30.

This age and safety link is part of the reasoning behind federal rules setting the minimum age for interstate truck drivers. While many states allow drivers between 18 and 21 to drive commercial vehicles intrastate, over-the-road truckers must be at least 21.

The Truckload Carrier Association thinks the 21-year-old minimum age causes the industry to miss out on attracting potential workers as many young workers who might have become truck drivers settle into jobs in other industries where they’ve worked since they were 18 or 19.

To address the issue, TCA asked the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to allow a three-year pilot program that would put about 1,000 carefully selected 18- to 20-year-olds in a 48-week truck driver-training course. TCA hopes the program will show that younger drivers can be safe, professional truck drivers if they receive the right kind of training.

At first, the idea may sound radical, and in some ways, it is. Good drivers are generally experienced drivers. But TCA’s program calls for 48 weeks of training – 22 weeks at a certified truck driving school, eight weeks in a carrier’s finishing program and then 18 weeks driving team with an older, experienced driver. That’s almost a year of training before a program participant hits the road alone.

We believe the pilot is worth trying, as long as these young drivers demonstrate both skill and maturity behind the wheel before they are handed the keys to their own rigs.

Still, we can’t help wondering that if it takes 48 weeks to train a 19- or 20-year-old to drive safely, why doesn’t it take that long to train a 21- or 25-year-old new driver?

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A common complaint from new drivers is that they were handed the keys to a truck and sent out with a load without really knowing what they would face on the road.

Perhaps the industry could learn something from the young driver pilot proposal. While it’s too soon to know if or when the FMCSA will approve the program, the training component might serve to focus attention on what and how much training is really required to prepare someone to pilot an 18-wheeler over the road.

Under TCA’s proposal, carriers participating in the pilot program will bear the cost of employment and monitoring once participants complete the training. The students would be responsible for paying the school part of the program, estimated to cost between $4,500 and $10,000 per student. Some of the tuition costs can be offset by federal Pell grants, according to TCA, but if the objective is to attract needed drivers, then perhaps carriers participating in the program should help underwrite these costs.

The No. 1 question this program needs to answer remains the age and safety link. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data, drivers between 16 and 20 have an accident rate of 29.85 per 100,000 population. For drivers between 21 and 64, the accident rate is 16.5. The California Department of Motor Vehicles has statistics that show CDL holders under 21 driving intrastate have a higher accident rate than older drivers.

But these statistics are misleading when discussing TCA’s proposal. The young driver pilot will select only 18- to 20-year-olds with outstanding driving records who will then undergo almost a year of extensive training and monitoring. The young drivers may ultimately show that the real link isn’t between age and safety, but between training and safety.