The trucking industry is dwindling. Each year, more truck drivers leave or retire, causing a driver shortage in the tens of thousands. Yet, as the number of truck drivers drops, fatal truck accidents increase. This is the reality of the American trucking industry, but it begs the question: Why will fewer truck drivers mean more truck accidents?
The average U.S. truck driver is 55 years old and has been hauling cargo for most of their adult lives. This has given them a wealth of experience in controlling their truck, identifying hazards, and preventing crashes. Yet, most of these drivers are planning to retire in just a few years and a great number of them already have.
This surge of retiring drivers, combined with the COVID-19 pandemic, has left a driver shortage that is quickly approaching 85,000 openings. In 2019, that shortage was around 60,000.
But that still hasn’t answered the question. What does a driver shortage have to do with an increase in truck accidents? The answer lies with the trucking industry’s response to this crisis.
A few years ago, the average time to earn a Commerical Driver’s License (the kind need to drive a semi-truck) was about 2-3 months. While requirements varied, most places required that applicants have a minimum of 72 classroom hours, 120 hours of behind-the-wheel experience, a written test, and the final driving test.
But the trucking industry argued that skilled drivers were being held back by the minimum required hours needed to earn their license. They successfully argued that skilled drivers should be allowed on the road as soon as they passed their driver’s test.
As a result of this lobbying, the minimum requirements needed to earn a commercial license look much different in 2021 than they did in 2015. Now, there is no minimum requirement for classroom hours. Potential truck drivers can take their written test at any time (Only needing to score an 80% to earn their permit) and they only need 30 hours of behind-the-wheel training before taking their final driver’s test. Instead of 8-12 weeks to earn a license, most drivers can earn their commercial license in 3-6 weeks.
Changing minimum requirements to earn a license has not significantly affected the driver shortage. The shortage grew by 25% in 2020-2021 alone and it’s expected to get much, much bigger by 2030. What has happened as a result of these changes is a significant spike in fatal truck accidents.
Since this change in basic training was enacted, fatal truck accidents have increased by 20%. Now, there are roughly 400,000 truck accidents per year between America’s 3.4 million drivers. Of those, about 33% cause injury or death. Put another way, each U.S. truck driver has about a 1-in-20 chance of being involved in a potentially deadly crash each year.
Worst of all, these new drivers with less training aren’t gaining the experience they need to avoid crashes later in their careers. That’s because the trucking industry typically sees an annual turnover rate of 90%, only dropping to about 75% in late 2021. That means young drivers who earn their license and join the industry are frequently leaving with less than a year of experience, only for their seat to be filled by another inexperienced driver.
The message is clear. When experienced truck drivers leave, crashes increase. When truck drivers aren’t required to learn the basics, to understand their no-zone, and demonstrate a full grasp of safety techniques, crashes increase. What we’re seeing now is a perfect storm, a crisis in the trucking industry, and one that is, sadly, claiming more lives each year. There is no quick fix to this but to reinstate the extensive training requirements we had a few years ago.
When someone is injured or killed in a truck crash, they and their families have a right to pursue justice. If you or someone you love have been injured and need help moving forward, our team is here to help. To discuss your case with an experienced Shreveport truck accident attorney from Morris & Dewett Injury Lawyers, don’t hesitate to send us an email or call (318) 221-1508 today.