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Tractor trailers are a major factor in highway safety. There are about 11 million of them that travel on our highways, logging an impressive 288 BILLION miles a year. And with such a large number of large trucks on the road, it is no surprise that they contribute to a significant number of vehicle crashes. According to the most recent accident data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, in 2009, large trucks were involved in 286,000 crashes, leading to over 3,000 fatalities and another 74,000 injuries.

With accident numbers that big that involve vehicles as big as tractor trailers are—weighing greater than 10,000 pounds—the safety practices of the drivers behind the wheel should be a concern for all of us. But recent news reports indicate that there is actually a shortage of safe, qualified drivers to meet the demands of trucking companies. CNN Money reports that there are nearly 200,000 job openings nationwide for long haul truckers. There are currently about 1.5 million drivers on the road, but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics that number is growing and expected to surpass 1.8 million by 2020.

There are lots reasons that explain this shortage. Trucking is, of course, a grueling job that means time away from home and family, long days trying to log miles and meet deadlines, and the stress of living on the road. These factors may trucking unappealing to many and lead to high turnover rates. But some of the reasons for the trucker shortage are actually safety-related and that is good news.

Regulations to ensure trucking safety actually make it difficult for some individuals to enter the job market. For example, truck drivers must be at least age 21, which means that recent high school graduates are ineligible for the positions. In addition, drivers must take a six-week driver-training course at the cost of $4,000 to $6,000, which is often unaffordable for those looking for work in this tough economic climate.

In addition to the obstacles for new entrants, some trucking companies are also starting to be more selective in their hiring. Again, this is safety related. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration recently started publicizing the safety ratings of trucking companies. That has meant that some companies are changing their hiring practices, looking for only the best drivers—without blemishes on their record. Then you have to add on to all of that the fact that new “Hours-of-Service” regulations just went into effect this summer that place stiffer limits on the number of hours a driver can log before resting. That means more drivers are needed to cover the same distance in the same amount of time.

Of course steps definitely need to be taken to alleviate this driver shortage. Overworked drivers—even if they are complying with the Hours-of-Service regulations are not good for highway safety. And a shortfall in the number of safe drivers carries other costs, such as increased shipping expenses or delays. But fixing the problem definitely should not come at the cost of decreasing safety on our roadways.

Lindsay Rakers, St. Louis Missouri truck accident attorney

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