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OLDER COMMERCIAL DRIVERS: DO THEY POSE A SAFETY RISK? SUMMARY This report presents the results of TRB CTBSSP Project MC-18: Older Commercial Driv- ers: Do They Pose a Safety Risk? It provides a knowledge base regarding age-related changes in the basic functional abilities needed to drive safely that can assist industry and labor practitioners in promoting safer commercial operations. It may also inform the broader commercial vehicle safety community and the FMCSA in developing policies and regulations that protect public safety without penalizing drivers on the basis of their age. This report contains the following sections: · A statement of the background and the problem that brought about this project. · A literature review on changes in medical (functional) fitness to drive that affect older drivers generally and older commercial drivers specifically. · The results of a series of structured interviews with carriers and others in the trucking industry regarding older commercial drivers. · Conclusions. The synthesis team conducted a comprehensive literature review on the topic of age as it pertains to driving. The team also conducted surveys of commercial truck carriers, motor coach companies, school bus associations and companies, industry organizations (e.g., the American Trucking Associations), insurance companies, state departments of transportation, and other relevant organizations. However, recent surveys of the trucking industry have been hampered by low response levels. With the concurrence of both the TRB and FMCSA, the team opted for in-person and telephone interviews to determine whether industry safety managers and state motor vehicle administrators think a need exists for any unique testing of older commercial motor vehicle drivers. The literature review worked from general findings about the physiological and psy- chological effects of aging, to the specific literature pertaining to aging effects on driving, and, finally, to any specific literature on older commercial drivers. The review also looked for any current documentation of older commercial driver safety data, any policies or local regulations pertaining to older commercial drivers, and any findings in Europe, Asia, or Australia relevant to this synthesis. To the extent that medical conditions and medications are singled out for discussion in this review, it is based on their prevalence in the overall aging population, not on the results of epidemiological research conducted strictly within the older commercial driver population. A principal audience for the synthesis study will be managers of bus and truck fleets. However, the results will be of special interest to academic and trade association research- ers in the field of motor carrier safety, and federal and state agency officials with responsi- bility for developing effective regulatory and incentive programs to enhance commercial motor vehicle safety. The literature review makes clear that aging has a profound effect on the human mind and body, with a present emphasis on changes known to impair drivers' capabilities in
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2 ways that are recognized as crash risk factors. However, much of that literature is based on research performed on significantly older persons than one finds in the commercial driver population. Even for the general driving population, it is uncommon to find studies that show a significant increase in crash risk for persons age 70 or younger. The literature review also suggests that, even with the physical and cognitive changes in older persons, older drivers can often compensate for those changes by making better decisions and demonstrating better judgment while driving. The Llaneras et al. (1995) research, which studied active Commer- cial Driver License (CDL) drivers of all ages, showed that drivers over age 60 made fewer errors and had fewer near misses than their younger counterparts. Although this study was conducted in a driving simulator, feedback from industry indicates that these data support the general view of the older commercial driver. Although the research data on older persons and older drivers in general are quite broad, the research findings for older commercial drivers are quite limited. The Llaneras et al. (1995) study noted previously strongly suggests that healthy, active older commercial drivers need not provide an exaggerated risk to traffic safety. Although counterintuitive, both the research and the large truck crash data support this stance. Most important is the evidence showing that loss of function for any driver underlies a higher risk of crash causation, regard- less of age. The synthesis findings suggest that older persons who are currently commercial driv- ers pose no greater safety risk than their younger and middle-aged counterparts. Some decline--which varies greatly from individual to individual--in the visual, cognitive, and psychomotor abilities needed to drive safely is inevitable with normal aging, with the dis- eases that are more common among older people, and with the medications used to treat them. Therefore, as the number of older persons, including professional truck drivers, grows larger, it is important that crash data continue to be monitored for any trends that differ from these findings. The need for minimum qualifications for medical fitness to drive that are evidence-based, and are fairly and consistently applied, is widely recognized. However, the literature review and interviews conducted for this study show no reason that older commercial drivers should be treated differently by CDL testing and licensing jurisdictions.