The Department of Transportation has produced a piece of research that to a limited extent supports its claim that truck driving contributes to a shorter life expectancy than other occupations.

Both Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration chief Anne Ferro have said that the life expectancy of a commercial driver is 16 years shorter than the norm. But there have been questions about the source of their statistics.

The issue came up in the context of concern about driver health as a consequence of the demands of the job and behaviors such as cigarette smoking. Some 200 medical researchers, doctors, regulators, trucking executives and others spent two and a half days in Baltimore in November talking about truck and bus drivers.

At that event, Ferro said the life expectancy of a commercial driver is 16 years shorter than the norm, referencing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"It is a startling, frightening and frankly untenable figure," she said. "There are a host of contributing issues but health is at the heart of it."

Ferro referenced the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the source of the statistic, as did Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in his Sept. 2 Fast Lane blog: "According to the (CDC), the average life expectancy for a commercial truck driver is 61 years. That is 16 years lower than the national average, and I think you'll agree that gap is startling."

Statistic in Question

Truck driver life expectancy may be shorter than the norm, but the sources FMCSA cited do not support the figure of 16 years shorter. The agency supplied two references.

One is a note in the March 2008 edition of the Roemer Report, which cites a study by Toronto researcher Dr. Martin Moore-Ede. Roemer said the study found "that truck drivers have a 10- to 15-year lower life expectancy than the average American male, who lives on average to age 76."

In response to an inquiry from TruckingInfo, Moore-Ede, the chairman and CEO of the international fatigue management firm Circadian, said that the item is incorrect. "The Web has kept on churning up this incorrect story for over 10 years now," he said. "I have not done such a study (and) I am not a Toronto researcher."

The other reference is a report from a 2003 conference on truck driver occupational safety and health, including a Selective Literature Review. The conference was sponsored by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which is an arm of the CDC.

The report contains anecdotal references to truck driver life expectancy in the owner-operator and Teamster segments of the industry. John Siebert of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association reported at the 2003 conference that OOIDA data suggests that the average age of death for its members is 55.7 years. Siebert also said that Teamsters union drivers have a life expectancy of 63, citing a union source.

The conference report concluded that these numbers merit further investigation. The first question to be answered, the report said, is whether or not they are accurate.

Health Concerns

In a statement in response to Truckinginfo's inquiry about verification of the 16-year life span deficit, an FMCSA spokesperson said, "We know that a broad range of medical research points to the health concerns that significantly impact the life expectancy of commercial drivers."

There was plenty of scientific evidence at the Baltimore meeting, the first International Conference on Commercial Driver Health and Wellness, to bear this out.

One presenter, Dr. Eric Wood of the University of Utah, reported that his study of mainly long-haul drivers found that half smoke tobacco, 28 percent suffer from hypertension (high blood pressure) compared to 17 percent of manufacturing workers, 25 percent had high cholesterol (compared to 16 percent), 10 percent had diabetes mellitus (compared to 5 percent) and almost 15 percent had sleep apnea. Only 58 percent are covered by health insurance.

Lawrence Cheskin, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, reported that 55 percent of truck drivers are obese with a body mass index of 30 or higher, compared to 33 percent of U.S. men.

Another Study

Now Martin R. Walker, chief of research at FMCSA, has forwarded another study that measured mortality among unionized truck drivers and dock workers.

The study - "Cause-Specific Mortality in the Unionized U.S. Trucking Industry" - was published in the August 2007 edition of Environmental Health Perspectives. It was based on an analysis of the records of about 54,300 employees of four unionized trucking companies in 1985.

The key finding was that the workers had higher rates of lung cancer and heart disease than the average population, possibly as a consequence of exposure to diesel and propane exhaust.

One of the demographic measurements in the study was the mean age of death: among the cohort of drivers it was 61.3, plus or minus 8.6 years; and among the non-drivers it was 59.1, plus or minus 10.6 years. The median age of death for both groups combined was 61.9 years. The median age of death for men nationally in 1992 was 73.2 years.

About the author
Oliver Patton

Oliver Patton

Former Washington Editor

Truck journalist 36 years, who joined Heavy Duty Trucking in 1998 and has retired. He was the trucking press’ leading authority on legislative and regulatory affairs.

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