I got my first AARP Bulletin in the mail recently. I was somewhat hoodwinked into paying for a membership and then told that I wasn’t a full member until I turn 50 later this year.
The Bulletin is here on my cluttered desk at work, sitting mostly unread, but it’s a daily reminder of the fact that I’m almost a half a century old. While retirement sounds fun I would like to be the one to make the decision about when that is to happen.
Trucking has been in a slump as you all know, thus there has been little talk about the turnover rate and driver shortage issues that normally are mentioned often in the industry. However, things are turning around and companies are once again looking for drivers.
There’s been talk for years about how the Baby Boomers in trucking will be phasing out as they age and many companies will be looking at ways to fill the seats of trucks with good drivers, not just seat fillers. There’s been a mention by some about lowering the minimum age for drivers in trucking.
Since 2000, the number of service and truck drivers 55 or older has surged 19 percent to about 616,000 in 2006, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
And according to Newsweek, at one of the largest trucking companies the number of drivers 50 and over has increased by 46 percent since 2005. They now make up one-third of their driving staff of 15,000.
Allen Smith, a trucking advocate and activist, posted a blog on his site about the aging pool of truck drivers. He estimated that the average age of over-the-road truckers is 52.4 years of age.
And in an unscientific poll in early 2009, thetrucker.com found that respondents were mostly in the group of 45-54 years of age (34 percent). And 26 percent said they were 55 years of age or older.
No matter how good an individual drives there are those who are calling for an across-the-board mandatory retirement age of 65 years for truckers because there have been some major wrecks involving 70-year-old drivers.
One of the more vocal proponents appears to be Terry Cochran, a lawyer in Michigan, who posts online when he hears of a trucker having a wreck when said driver is older than 65.
In a Dec. 30, 2009, post on the Internet his headline reads: “It Happened Again! Aging Trucker in Deadly Accident in Michigan When Are We Going to Insist on Mandatory Retirement at Age 65? We Do For Pilots.”
In this same post he says he’s “grieved with clients over the needless deaths resulting from car-truck accidents, [he has] argued in the past that truck related deaths can be reduced by paying more attention to highway safety and driver fatigue.” … and Cochran continues: “In recent months I have become convinced the effort should now involve a three-prong approach — safer roads, less driver fatigue, and a mandatory retirement age for truck drivers.”
He goes on to say that 65 years of age is the best standard because at that age people can draw Social Security and Medicare in addition to any retirement benefits or 401k investments. And, in comparison, at age 65 airline pilots must retire.
I’m sure there are drivers out there over the age of 65 who have no business driving a truck. But then again, there are some 30-year-olds out there that shouldn’t be truckers either.
Smith said in a past study on how age affects one’s driving skills, it was found that “drivers age 65 and older are 16 percent more likely to cause an accident, while drivers 25 years of age and younger showed a whopping 188 percent chance to be the direct cause of a vehicle accident. This study was based on personal auto driving, so how would it compare with drivers of tractor-trailers?”
Here’s the way I see it. Truck drivers are required to have physicals every two years in order to maintain a CDL. (Pilots have much more stringent requirements to keep their certification to fly.) However, once an automobile driver gets a license, at least in my home state of Arkansas, the only requirement is an annual renewal with a simple eye exam. It’s OK, apparently, for a 95-year-old person to pull onto an interstate in a car and drive 40 mph in a 60 mph speed-limit zone which is hazardous beyond belief, but not for a truck driver to drive past 65 years of age even though he/she is checked from head to toe every two years.
Maybe it’s apples and oranges to compare truckers and little old ladies, and it’s not like the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has announced anything regarding a mandatory retirement age, but it’s still out there in cyber world.
I did contact FMCSA to see if I was missing anything, if that perhaps there had been a mandate included in one of the proposed rules, maybe the medical testing or some other rule, and here’s what I found out:
“CDLs are state-issued licenses; it is the responsibility of the state issuing the CDL to ensure that the individual is qualified and capable of operating a large commercial vehicle,” said Duane DeBruyne spokesman for FMCSA. “The medical certificate required of CDL holders are signed by a state-licensed medical practitioner; it is the responsibility of the medical practitioner signing the certificate to ensure that the individual is physically and mentally qualified and capable of operating a large commercial vehicle.”
In other words, there’s nothing in the rules about a maximum age to drive a truck requirement, at least not right now.
Dollar for dollar I’d rather have a mandatory requirement that all automobile drivers must be retested on the road every so many years after a certain age, perhaps 65, than an across-the-board mandate that could take some darn good experienced truck drivers off the road just because they hit a certain age with no regard to performance or ability.
And here’s the other thing: I would much rather have a driver at age 68 or 70 who has been driving his whole career without an accident, who was tested up to two years ago and passed by a medical professional, than to have a driver who went to school for three weeks with one hour over-the-road training and who’s 21-years-old driving a truck.
Before the industry begins to even think about dumping drivers 65 and older I sure hope they set some guidelines on entry-level truckers and don’t just expect to have seats filled. Because if they do that, safety will take a dramatic turn in the wrong direction.
Barb Kampbell of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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