The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) released its phase one findings of research investigating the potential for developing a Younger Driver Assessment Tool – one that would identify younger drivers who exhibit many of the same characteristics as safe, older commercial drivers.

To assess the feasibility of identifying safe younger drivers, ATRI noted it reviewed existing scientific literature on driver characteristics and the associated safety outcomes.  The report summarizes the psychology literature on early adulthood, and how characteristics of this age group relate to driving safety.  The research was conducted in conjunction with Monica Luciana, professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota. 

According to ATRI, individual traits that can predict driver safety outcomes – personality, health, and cognition – are identified and discussed in the report.

The report notes that young drivers (18 to 25 years of age) represent a largely untapped age group for the trucking industry. “This is primarily the result of federal regulations that require an individual to be 21 years of age before they can obtain a commercial driver’s license to operate across state lines,” the report explained. “Therefore, individuals interested in becoming a truck driver before the age of 21 are restricted to operating intrastate – which may limit job opportunities and earning potential.  As a result, drivers 20 to 24 years of age represent approximately five percent of individuals employed in the truck transportation sector, while for all industries this age group comprises 9.8% of employees.”

According to ATRI’s research, as a group, the 18 to 25 year age group is characterized by elevated risk when compared to older age groups. Underlying factors of this heightened risk include:

  • immature cognitive function
  • a tendency to impulsively approach sources of pleasure
  • high risk-taking behavior rates that are often associated with preventable negative consequences

“While the 18 to 25 year age group is high-risk as a whole, there are likely to be individuals within this age group who are more similar to safe, experienced drivers than their peers,” the report states.

In 2015, ATRI’s Research Advisory Committee (RAC)1 identified as a top research priority the investigation of whether younger drivers that are as safe as drivers in older age groups could be identified through some type of assessment tool.  As a result, ATRI said is undertaking a series of chronological tasks to assess whether “safer” drivers can be identified among 18 to 20 year olds.

The recently released report summarizes the background literature initially used to assess the feasibility of identifying and recruiting young individuals with low crash risk into the truck driver workforce based on existing scientific literature. 

The next phase of ATRI's research will involve assembling the relevant measures of the identified predictive factors and conducting a beta test of the assessment tool on a small sample of both veteran and entry-level drivers.  Results of the beta test will determine if a larger scale study is warranted.

"The potential to screen for the safest candidates among younger new entrants is an exciting step in the industry's workforce expansion.  We look forward to working with ATRI in the development and testing of the Younger Driver Assessment Tool," said Greg Koepel, vice president, workforce development and administration, Roehl Transport, Inc.

The technical memo can be downloaded on ATRI's website.