Telematics May Be the Key
By Oswaldo Flores, Product Manager, Teletrac Navman
March 7, 2022
From barren grocery store shelves to a disturbing lack of onion rings at your favorite local eateries, the problems caused by the ongoing supply chain disruptions are manifesting in all kinds of different ways. The biggest – and most direct – cause of these woes is the massive shortage of truck drivers, estimated to be a record high of 80,000 by the American Trucking Associations in 2021 and likely an even larger gap now.
Pandemic-related friction, new remote employment opportunities, a more competitive job market and the realities of an aging workforce have created a perfect storm of resignations and retirements that fleet owners have found themselves tasked with navigating. Throughout 2022, help may be on the way from a rather unexpected source: teenagers.
As it stands, truck drivers younger than 21 have generally been forbidden from driving commercially across state lines. However, the recently passed American Jobs Plan introduced a new pilot program that would allow for drivers as young as 18 to drive semi-trucks on interstate hauls.
The program – which has yet to be adopted in any official capacity despite the original deadline for doing so already passing – would allow 18-year-olds to immediately drive across state lines if accompanied by an experienced driver older than 26 supervising from the passenger seat. After accumulating 400 hours of probationary time, these young apprentices would be qualified to drive interstate solo.
Many groups – including the Truck Safety Coalition – have expressed doubts as to whether granting this population, which is associated with the poorest driving habits, the keys to the largest vehicles on the highway is a good idea. Many have pointed to data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, indicating that teens are four times more likely to be involved in a crash than a driver over the age of 20.
In any quality fleet, safety belongs at the top of the priority list, and there are ways of bringing these young truckers into the fold safely. As originally proposed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the pilot program requires that participant trucks be equipped with additional mandatory safety features, including front-facing video cameras, automatic emergency brakes and an automatically enforced speed limit of 65 miles per hour. Telematics will help fleet businesses conform to two of those three requirements. Furthermore, apprentices would also not be allowed to haul hazardous material or drive any trucks with more than one trailer.
Ultimately, fleet owners are facing a complicated issue right now, and while the triggering events in this case were unique, the underlying issues may be harder to resolve than just refreshing the workforce. For many of the older members of the workforce, the remote work boom, COVID-19 policies and poor, hazardous or inconvenient working conditions in general may have opened the exit door.
Will teenage drivers refresh and revitalize the industry? Ultimately, it’s unlikely this pilot program – if adopted – will achieve that by itself. However, this does pose an opportunity to solve an immediate crisis with the chance of a long-term solution if fleet owners with driver retention issues take this opportunity to consider what else can be done differently.
As touched on above, there are several tech-enabled solutions that can be helpful in training younger drivers in the short term while aiding driver retention in the long run. Thoughtful application of telematics can provide fleets with the data necessary for in-depth coaching, giving a clear idea of what success looks like while also quickly catching any potentially dangerous habits that need to be ironed out. Telematics can also allow for other behavioral and safety features such as geofencing to make drivers aware of potentially hazardous areas and correct unsafe driving behaviors in real time. Many fleets make use of data-informed “driver scorecards” as a means of exemplifying and driving greater success, skill and safety among drivers.
If this program is to lead to long-term success, it will be because it’s done as safely as possible – any one incident can threaten the entire experiment. Safety is the top concern from critics of the program and, likewise, should be at the top of mind for fleet owners, especially with young drivers behind the wheel. The safety policies already attached to the program are a good start, but fleets that want to thrive would do well to overachieve on the safety front. Are today’s teens really the future of trucking? Maybe – but it’s the industry’s job to set them up for success and telematics might be the key.