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.