Finally, FMCSA gets it: Driver experience reduces crash risk

By Jami Jones, managing editor

Prevailing common sense that truck drivers with more experience are less likely to crash was confirmed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in a recent analysis brief released by the agency.

FMCSA recently published its January 2017 brief titled “Analysis of Driver Critical Reason and Years of Driving Experience in Large Truck Crashes.”

The analysis reviewed the 2005 Large Truck Crash Causation Study and compared the odds and risk of drivers being the critical reason in a crash compared with their years of experience driving and the number of years behind the wheel of a particular type of truck.

The Large Truck Crash Causation Study met heavy criticism in the industry when it was first released because the study did not actually determine what “caused” a crash. Rather the researchers defined and identified “critical reasons” for the crashes they studied.

In spite of the criticism, the study has become a resource for the agency in justifying different regulations.

The analysis brief released by the agency in January reveals that data within the Crash Causation Study shows a link between years of experience behind the wheel and the reduced likelihood of the driver named as the “critical reason” for the crash.

Less than 10 percent of the crashes studied listed the driver as the critical reason for the crash. In those crashes, the likelihood of the driver being identified as the critical reason diminished with time behind the wheel.

“For drivers with less than five years of experience driving a truck, the estimated odds of being assigned the critical reason for the crash is 1.41 times (or 41 percent higher than) the estimated odds for drivers with five or more years of experience,” the analysis brief states. “The estimated odds and risk ratios decline markedly after five years of driving.”

For drivers with 10 or more years of driving experience, according to the brief, the risk of being assigned as the critical reason for the crash was 14 percent lower.

The brief says that the advantage derived from driving experience appears to peak above the 25-year range. At 30 or more years of experience driving a truck, the odds and risk ratios show an uptick. However, that uptick is not statistically different from the estimated odds and risk of drivers with fewer years of truck driving experience.

The analysis brief follows the release of a mandatory entry-level driver training regulation that does not include a specific number of required hours behind the wheel as part of the training.

If experience really mattered ...

In the final driver training rule, the agency blamed the inability to quantify the benefit of requiring a set number of hours behind the wheels, but said it would study the results of training without a requirement and make adjustments in the future if necessary.

The rule is a result of a negotiated rulemaking. FMCSA formed a committee of 26 industry stakeholders and charged them to develop the recommended framework for the final rule on driver training.

In spite of the fact that 24 members of the negotiated rulemaking committee agreed – two members disagreed – that a minimum number of hours of behind-the-wheel training should be required, the agency landed on a final rule that did not include a required number of hours. The dissenting groups were the American Trucking Associations and the National Association of Small Trucking Companies. Neither supported any number of required hours behind the wheel.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has been critical of the lack of required hours behind the wheel and has petitioned the agency to reconsider its decision to exclude the requirement.

The petition was submitted on Dec. 27, 2016. The driver training regulation is also likely affected by the freeze on regulations President Donald Trump issued on Jan. 20. LL