Training Regulations…Safety or Something Else

By Sandy Long
Back in the 1990’s Congress instructed the Department of Transportation to come up with training regulations for new entry-level truck drivers. The FMCSA, a division of the DOT looked into it and decided that the CDL process was adequate and no further training regulations were needed. Since then, advocacy groups, trucking organizations and others have pushed for the FMCSA to set standard training regulations to no avail. The FMCSA keeps whispering about this issue and even has done a few ‘listening sessions’ but there has been no real movement.

Since most of the focus for the new regulation is safety, many drivers who came into the business twenty or thirty years ago do not see the need. These drivers came into trucking during a time when there was less traffic, lighter freight and fewer regulations. Furthermore, the demographics of where drivers came from back then are different than today. Back then most drivers came from agriculture, the military or trucking families, they had some sort of background in heavy equipment usage; it was easier for them to just be ‘thrown the keys’ and told to go drive that truck with little or no training.

Of course mentioning safety sells so this is why safety is focused on as the need for strong training regulations. Most of the groups calling for training regulations cite safety as the main reason for the need of the new regulation. While to a degree they are right, there are other reasons more viable and sensible.
Trucking schools are expensive to go to, $3-10,000 for the course, only 2-4 weeks usually. Fraud abounds in the schools with many just in it for the money. Of course, one does not have to go to school to get a CDL, but to get hired by most companies, some sort of school is required. To fill this need, there are even some so-called schools that guarantee a CDL in 24 hours; one is basically renting a truck. In any trucking school situation, the dropout rate is approximately 50%. Even if the student drops out, the tuition is owed and will have to be paid by the student or company who prehired them, usually the student though.

Once the student goes out with a trainer for 2-8 weeks, the dropout rate is again approximately 50% due to lack of knowledge of the actual job of truck driving, poor trainers and not being able to adapt to the trucking lifestyle. If a student gets through the training time, again approximately 50% will quit trucking in the first year. Most of the new drivers are not taught regulations beyond what is required in the written tests for the CDL, little about safety either highway or personal and nothing at all about how to adapt to the lifestyle. Furthermore, the new driver knows nothing about the business side of trucking, how to communicate with the public and support staff and little if nothing beyond the pretrip about the mechanics of their equipment. Basically they are thrown the keys and told to go drive the truck with just a little training at a high cost.

Stronger training regulations that equalize and standardize the training process for both schools and companies would assist the new driver in making the decision to become a driver from the onset easier and give them the structure to remain instead of dropping out throughout the first year and school. Stronger training regulations would also push out the unscrupulous schools that are just out to make a dollar. New drivers would have a better chance of being successful in their new profession and would make more productive drivers. Stronger training regulations would also hopefully set standards for trainers to have experience instead of the habit of having an inexperienced driver training a student, the baby teaching the baby so to speak.

With the current situation of not many looking to the trucking industry to enter as a career, stronger training regulations would start to make the trucking industry look like it does want professionals who are well trained instead of meat in the seat. Driver retention would be easier as new drivers would know how to cope with the job instead of just quitting so quickly or job jumping.

Finally, yes, with stronger training regulations things might be safer, though in my opinion that is not the main focus. With properly trained drivers, fewer breakdowns might occur, fewer mistakes in judgment might occur and a few less accidents might occur. However, no matter how well trained a driver is, stuff happens in the some cases, but at least with proper training, the new driver stands a chance to avoid bad situations thru training, not just luck.

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An Industry in Chaos

By Sandy Long
At one time, it was a proud thing to be a trucker, no more though. Due to adverse media attention, (sensationalism sells), companies not supporting their drivers and hiring just anyone, and the drivers losing perspective and going into defensive/aggressive modes, trucking has gone down into chaos.  It is common to see headlines or news blurbs saying a ‘truck’ caused a wreck. If you care to listen, it is often a pickup truck. If you hear of a large crash, it is common to hear of a semi truck being involved, even if it did not cause the crash itself, yet the semi truck being involved is highlighted.

Of course, there are times when a truck did cause a crash, about 21% of the time according to national statistics. This means that 79% of the time, the trucker was not at fault other than being in the wrong place with the wrong folk around him. However, according to most media outside of the industry, they blame the trucker. How does this affect trucking?
People outside of the industry have great influence in our government to start with. They are the ones who, out of fear of trucks, push their legislators to pass more laws and regulations on truckers so they feel safer. With overwhelming media sensationalism, the natural fear of interacting with something so much larger in close quarters is intensified; the result being more restrictive regulations concerning trucks and their drivers.

Truckers are people too, and bring their biases with them if they enter the trucking industry. With the overwhelming attention and comments on how unsafe trucks and truckers are, it is not uncommon for a new driver to believe the sensationalism. The driver will not stand up for themselves against abuse or pending regulations if safety is mentioned. If the new person goes into a trucking office in any capacity, they do not respect truckers due to the perceived carelessness of them and will be difficult to deal with or put in too restrictive of policies.

Companies talk about driver shortage and driver retention in almost every trade magazine and social media group. Company officials wring their hands about how to either attract new drivers or how to keep the ones they have. Yet look at how a driver is treated by the companies they work for. They cannot get home on a regular basis for any true length of time, entry level drivers have to survive on substandard wages until they prove themselves (hard to do when they do not have the skills yet to be really productive), and drivers are not given the tools to meet regulations and are expected to deal with them. A good example of the latter is not being allowed to idle their trucks for comfort and safety, yet the company does not provide APU units.

Companies live in fear of not keeping their equipment running or not meeting freight contracts due to not being able to keep drivers. They tend to think that a hot dog or hamburger, a ball cap and an ink pen once a year shows their appreciation and respect. By treating the driver as a respected professional and allowing the driver to do their job, they would stand a much better chance of retaining and attracting drivers. Average pay for a trucker is just $40k a year, this for being away from home for weeks at a time, living in an 8×8 box and risking their lives every minute of every day. Companies should raise pay commiserate with experience and make hometime a priority. They should also provide a supportive, respectful office staff for the drivers though teaching respect is hard, it can be done.

How is the above creating chaos; it is within the drivers themselves. Truckers have felt for decades that they have little or no voice with their companies or the government. Therefore, drivers become nomads and instead of working through company issues, cut and go to another company. Let any sort of new regulation be proposed and it soon is blown up tremendously; yet truckers only look at how something will affect them, not other drivers and they do bring in their own biases as mentioned above.

Truckers have lost pride in their job or just look at it as a job, gone is the pride and independence that used to be a feature of being a trucker. Truckers used to be neatly dressed, looked at as the white knights and ladies of the road, and conducted themselves while driving as the professionals they were. In today’s world, we have drivers who could give a flip how they look and companies who no longer require dress codes. One rarely sees a line of trucks on the shoulder to assist another driver, or in a truck stop checking with someone in trouble if they need help. It is common to see truckers tailgating, acting aggressively, being vulgar in public view and having a not caring attitude. Courtesy, as it was once known, is gone for the most part. With the new social media, truckers who have developed a bad and/or cynical attitude towards everything from new truckers to the companies, have turned their angst and anger into public entertainment.

Why should a trucker be proud of their profession, they are monitored to the max down to cameras aimed at them while driving, they are overwhelmingly regulated and under paid. While companies say they want to keep drivers, they treat drivers as ‘meat in the seat’ and as if they are a ‘dime a dozen’. Law enforcement is no longer on the driver’s side and neither is the government. People are handed the keys to a truck they are little trained to drive in the intense traffic and regulation of today.

Chaos, yes, the definition of chaos is a state of utter confusion or disorder; a total lack of organization or order. Instead of the respect for truckers and the industry, the acknowledgement of the importance to every citizen of the country of truckers and the industry; trucking and truckers are vilified and criminalized from almost every direction outside of the industry. No one knows which way to jump anymore, or how to be professional outside of their own biases and perceptions due to lack of caring by most and too swiftly changing regulations.

Slow down on the changing of regulations, give companies time to think things out and drivers to learn how to adapt to changes and work with the media to stop the sensationalism and the hate mongering. In a short time, the chaos will subside to tolerable levels and once again perhaps trucking and truckers will not be going down into chaos and be respected once again.