Faced with a severe shortage of commercial drivers, many U.S. companies and commercial driving schools are actively recruiting seniors in their 70s, 80s, and even 90s. But along with the increasing number of senior commercial drivers comes an uptick in the number of crashes involving commercial tractor trailers.
A CBS News analysis of crash data found that there has been a 19 percent increase in the number of commercial truck crashes involving seniors in the last three years. According to CBS, there were nearly 7,000 commercial truck crashes between 2013 and 2015 in 12 states alone.
The issue of seniors driving tractor trailers raises some safety concerns, but it’s also a highly sensitive subject to address. Legislators have turned their heads away from the correlation between senior drivers and tractor-trailer crashes given the shortage of commercial drivers and the increasing number of seniors filling those jobs. But as accidents involving senior drivers increase, the controversial subject is becoming harder to ignore.
Rose McMurray, a former senior official at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), told CBS News that the regulatory agency has considered implementing extra safety measures for senior drivers, including closer screening and regular skill tests, because reaction time and stamina can become compromised with age.
“It clearly can result in a lot of political backlash … so state governments have grappled with this, the federal government has grappled with this … because the age discrimination laws really intervene,” Ms. McMurray told CBS News.
If there were an abundance of truck drivers to fill driving positions, NHTSA would likely act to place stricter regulations on senior drivers. For now, however, safety regulators have shelved plans for more senior driver regulations because of the labor shortage and the lack of age restrictions.
Currently, as long as a commercially licensed senior is able to pass a federally mandated physical-fitness test, he or she is allowed to operate a commercial vehicle.
On Oct. 13, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued a final rule that facilitates the process for veterans training for a commercial driver’s license. The new rule takes effect on Dec. 12 of this year. The agency has also awarded $1 million in grants to seven technical and community colleges to help train veterans and their families for jobs as commercial bus and truck drivers.