Truck accidents are more common now than they have been in the past. There has been a major increase in the number of truck accidents over the last five years as a result of changes to training requirements for new drivers.
To meet their bottom line, many truck companies are putting ill-experienced drivers on the road. This, however, often results in more truck accidents that could lead to injury or, in severe cases, death. Here's how to protect yourself and your passengers while on the road.
The Cause of the Problem
More well-experienced truck drivers are retiring and planning to retire in the next decade — one reason why accidents are occurring more often. We see the problems in the effects on our supply chain, but there are other consequences as well. Because there is a shortage of trained drivers, trucking companies are arguing to reduce the number of training requirements necessary to get new drivers on the road.
This surge of retiring drivers along with the other challenges the country faces are a dangerous combination. There are tens of thousands of drivers needed and few to fill this massive gap. Trucking companies are becoming increasingly desperate, leading them to hire and employ inexperienced drivers.
The Reduction of Training Hours and License Requirements
Under prior guidelines, it took a truck driver between 2 to 3 months to get their commercial driver's license (CDL) — the kind legally necessary to drive a large semi-truck. While requirements varied somewhat in different places, most drivers were required to:
- Have a minimum of 72 classroom hours of driving instruction
- Have at least 120 hours of behind-the-wheel truck driving experience
- Pass a written test
- Pass a final driving test
Due to the lack of available drivers, trucking companies began to argue that these requirements were limiting the number of new drivers they could hire. They successfully argued that new drivers were held back by the minimum hours required to get their license. Subsequently, they won the argument that the requirements should be reduced to quickly secure more drivers.
Reduced Requirements to Get a CDL
The minimum requirements for 2021 and beyond look much different than those in 2015. Now, there is no requirement for classroom hours. Truck drivers can take the written test at any time and must score an 80% or above to get their driving permit.
Drivers only need 30 hours of training behind the wheel before they can take their driver's test. Most drivers are now able to earn their commercial license within 3 to 6 weeks — a substantial decrease in training and the time it takes to get a commercial driver's license.
The Impact of Reduced Truck Driver Training Requirements
Although trucking companies argued they could get more drivers with reduced requirements, there has been little increase in the number of drivers. What has increased, instead, is the number of fatal truck accidents — by 20%. Hundreds of thousands of truck accidents happen every year and many of these will cause serious or fatal accidents.
Another key factor is the significant turnover rate for new drivers. The American Trucking Association showed that the turnover rate is typically 90% despite the new training requirements, with a temporary drop to 75% in late 2021. When drivers leave the industry, this pushes truck companies to hire new and, now recently, inexperienced drivers.
Why Reduced Training Increases Truck Accidents
Large semi-trucks and tractor-trailers require specialized training and knowledge to operate safely. An ordinary driver cannot simply get behind the wheel and operate a commercial truck appropriately. Reduced training signifies that drivers have less experience behind the wheel. This often means:
- Drivers have less knowledge about trucking regulations and special rules
- Drivers have less experience handling novel or unique situations that arise on the road
- Inexperienced drivers are less prepared to handle weather or traffic challenges
- Truck drivers have less experience with the long driving hours and how to handle it
- Drivers are less prepared to handle cars in their no-zones or blind spots
A reduction in training directly creates these challenges and many others.
Other Challenges That Make Truck Accidents More Common
The lack of quality training is one of the primary reasons why truck accidents are more common now. However, there are several other causes that have contributed to the increased number of accidents as well.
Driver Fatigue Due to Driver Shortage
Qualified truck drivers are being pushed to their limits. The lack of truck drivers has negatively impacted the supply chain and companies are desperate to catch up. To do this, they often force or coerce drivers to work beyond safe driving limits established by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Fatigued drivers may fall asleep behind the wheel and cause devastating harm to other drivers. They are also less alert and more prone to cause accidents due to delayed reaction times. Poorly trained and inexperienced drivers may not know that there are legal limits or may be unprepared to handle the rigorous driving that even the legal limits permit.
Drivers often have to drive for 8 hours without a break. This can leave them tired, distracted, and more likely to cause an accident. Driver fatigue is a major risk and a reason why truck accidents are even more common than before.
Substance Abuse and Truck Drivers
Like many other professions, truck drivers are susceptible to the effects of substance abuse. This primarily includes drug addiction and alcohol abuse. A study by Occupational & Environmental Medicine showed that alcohol and drug abuse were common among truck drivers. This is often due to the stresses of the job and exposure to others with substance abuse issues.
Intoxicated truck drivers can cause devastating accidents that cause severe injuries or even death. These injuries may be compensable in a personal injury case that seeks compensation from the intoxicated driver.