A survey by a leading US university, Virginia Tech,  has revealed that while age does have some impact on potential truck driver risk, commercial vehicle driving experience is more important when considering risk, according to the study.

“For drivers with seven months to one year of heavy commercial vehicle driving experience, crash rates were higher for drivers aged 55 years and older compared to their younger counterparts,” the study says.

The study was completed by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute’s National Safety Centre for Excellence.

The study, highlights the continued driver shortage  in the US and the largely aging workforce, gathered its data from the US Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration-sponsored study Commercial Driver Safety Risk Factors, which is currently under review. It has relevance for Australia which is also suffering from a driver shortage and an ageing driver population.

The more than 9,000 participants were surveyed looking at the driver’s age and commercial driving experience.

The information was then cross-referenced with driver safety performance metrics, as well as carrier-recorded crash data and the US Commercial Driver’s License Information System.

While some might think that age is the bigger factor in determining risk, as it does with determining insurance rates for non-commecial drivers, the study found that experience in big rigs was the dominating factor. This bears upon the US industry debate over allowing drivers younger than 21 to drive interstate.

“We see way more issues with older drivers,” said Joyce Sauer Brenny, president and CEO of US company Brenny Transportation, which operates an extensive training program to bring on younger drivers.

“Our 30 and under drivers, who have been through our training program, have few if any issues with incidents or accidents. Our 45-plus have the majority of the accidents and incidents,” she added.

Drivers who join the company with no experience driving are treated the same as younger drivers. For most drivers, it takes one year to be completely released from the program.

“My personal opinion,  is that it is mainly about lack of confidence and a ‘been there, done that’ attitude,” explained Brenny.

“The young drivers want to prove themselves; they also have heightened senses.” On the other hand, she said, “We become slower and slower to react as we age. I also see more anger and road rage in older drivers.”

The aim of the Virginia Tech study was to look at how safety performance changes across differing age and commercial vehicle driving experience categories. It compared drivers of six different age categories and eight different driving experience categories.

This showed that “for drivers with seven months to one year of heavy commercial driving experience, crash rates were higher for drivers aged 55 years and older compared to their younger counterparts.”

When combining all crash types, drivers with less than a year of heavy commercial  experience had “higher proportions of crash involvement” than drivers with more experience, regardless of age.

Preventable crashes showed similar results, “with less-experienced heavy commercial  drivers having higher proportions of crash involvement across the majority of age groups.”