New ATRI Initiative Studies Methods for Finding Safe Younger Drivers

Young Driver
A young driver learns from a teacher. (Brenny Specialized Inc.)

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A new initiative from the American Transportation Research Institute is exploring development of an assessment tool to identify the safest drivers among 18- to 20-year-olds, a key group that the trucking industry is targeting for expanded eligibility of commercial driver licenses for interstate travel.

The group’s Young Driver Assessment Tool — which is in phase one of beta testing — has demonstrated that there is the potential to identify individuals who are likely to be safer drivers via development of safety profiles that incorporate personality traits, physiological characteristics and other aspects of mental health. “ATRI’s Younger Driver Assessment Tool can potentially identify those new entrant drivers who share the same personality attributes as safe, mature veteran drivers,” ATRI President Rebecca Brewster said in a statement to Transport Topics. “We look forward to expanding our pilot test to include more younger drivers to further validate the tool’s accuracy.”

Currently, federal law prohibits commercial drivers under age 21 from interstate travel; they are restricted to intrastate travel and there are restrictions on the type of freight they can move.



According to an Aug. 4 news release from ATRI, the research includes a series of technical memoranda exploring ways to develop the assessment tool.

Truck drivers who participated in the initial assessment ranged from 20-60 years old, with varied levels of driving experience and safety performance. The beta test included 16 drivers under the age of 30; the median age was 47.

Drivers were tested in several areas, including personality traits, reasoning, impulsivity, sensation-seeking, sleep quality and cognitive control. Participating drivers’ safety performance was evaluated by reviewing their state motor vehicle records (MVR) and pre-employment screening (PSP) data — specifically when it came to data on safety violations and involvement in accidents.

Among statistically significant findings, ATRI found that drivers in the safest group based on their MVR and PSP data had the highest scores in the “conscientiousness and agreeableness” category, and the lowest scores in “experience seeking.” Drivers who were determined to be less safe exhibited marginally greater sensitivity to conflict in the “multisource interference task” category, indicating difficulties with cognitive control.

While the beta test included 16 drivers under the age of 30, the assessment indicated some sensitivity to age-related variations in performance. However, the age sensitivity to safety also materialized in older drivers with fewer years of experience. A key goal of the assessment tool is to identify younger drivers with the cognitive and mental attributes of mature, experienced drivers.

“Given all the internal and external pressures on driver recruitment and retention, it is safe to say that the driver shortage crisis is not going away,” Brenny Transportation CEO Joyce Brenny said in a news release from ATRI. “We need to find ways to expand the pool of safe truck drivers, and ATRI’s preliminary research indicates that safe, younger drivers can be found.”

St. Joseph, Minn.-based Brenny has an apprenticeship program to identify and train young people interested in the trucking industry.

“At Brenny, our young-driver apprentice program has a proven track record. Proper training and mentoring of young individuals who want to become truck drivers does work,” Brenny added.

Many in the trucking industry, including American Trucking Associations, support the federal DRIVE-Safe Act, which would allow 18- to 20-year-olds to drive interstate after a lengthy training and apprenticeship program, and with trucks equipped with specialized safety equipment.

ATRI, in concert with the Minnesota Trucking Association, has been studying the issue of recruiting younger drivers since 2015, attempting to develop criteria to identify the safest group of young people who may be strong candidates to become drivers.


ATA estimates the industry’s driver shortage could expand from the current 60,000-driver deficit to 100,000 drivers by 2023 due to projected freight growth, industry retirements and competition from other industries.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than a quarter of the trucking industry’s workforce, 27.4%, is above the age of 55. The ATRI release noted that the trucking industry’s reliance on an aging workforce puts pressure on the industry to broaden the pool of available qualified drivers.

Based on the results of the beta test, ATRI plans to expand the pilot test through a wider sample of younger drivers as well as the range of driver safety performance.

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