“Rookie Driver!” The term usually is used in disparaging terms by the ‘old hands’ on the road – even ‘old hands’ with six months experience. Ah, how quickly we forget we all had to start someplace. And it was the beginning of the process that Dan Rather Reports looked into this week on his HD Net weekly program. The star of the show, titled "Queen of The Road" was relatively new truck driver Desiree Wood. For those not familiar with Desiree, she writes, twitters and blogs as TruckerDesiree. She also posts to the Ask The Trucker website. Her tales of abuse, incompetence and neglect in the training and mentoring of brand new drivers caught the eye of the Dan Rather Reports people. Also featured was a former trainer at a large carrier and his attempts to clean up the system. This information is a revelation to the general public; to most of us, it’s just the same old story told, once again, by another abused rookie CDL holder. At least, she got someone to listen. . .
The Report* concentrated on Desiree’s training – or lack of it – at a commercial driving school. According to Desiree’s story, for $5000 she got almost no driving time and no individual instruction. This isn’t surprising for those of us who suffered through one of the ‘for profit’ CDL mills where, for the grand sum of $4000 - $5000, many of us learned just enough to qualify for a CDL license. And, somehow that simple piece of paper, gained by taking a road test and a series of paper tests over memorized bits of trucking trivia now qualified us to drive the big rigs with very little supervision or actual training. The fact is, a great many – perhaps the majority – of us are mostly self-trained . . in traffic . . on the interstate with loads of four-wheelers who think we’re ‘professionals’! A lot of us made it. With common sense, a willingness to ask for advice and an inordinate amount of personal responsibility and caution, we managed to put in several years of personal self-training before we could truthfully call ourselves well-trained. (This statement will garner tons of disagreement as most beginning truck drivers think they know it all, yet really haven’t the foggiest idea what they’re doing . . yet).
The Rather piece spends some time talking about how dangerous trucks are and stressing the 5000 fatalities per year in which trucks are involved: that figure is wrong as the number isn’t quite that high but still high enough. And most of us know the figure doesn’t reflect that the majority of these fatalities that involved another vehicle were NOT the fault of the truck driver. That doesn’t make the down and dirty facts of truck driver training any prettier. The fact is, these schools and carriers are playing the actuarial tables game: if the profit stays ahead of the loss, they aren't about to change anything. There are excellent schools, true – usually the longer community college courses or those organized in similar fashion. The whole process is under-regulated and over-hyped. With the rapid pace of most Motor Carrier regulations, there are essentially NO regulations on CDL training. Only within the last two or three years have there been ANY regulations of the CDL training aspect. And, those regulations are sketchy at best – and no guarantee a trainee must be proficient at controlling the vehicle at worst. The extent of the regulations is as follows:
Entry-level driver training must include instruction addressing the following four areas:
(a) Driver qualification requirements. The Federal rules on medical certification, medical examination procedures, general qualifications, responsibilities, and disqualifications based on various offenses, orders, and loss of driving privileges (part 391, subparts B and E of this subchapter).
(b) Hours of service of drivers. The limitations on driving hours, the requirement to be off-duty for certain periods of time, record of duty status preparation, and exceptions (part 395 of this subchapter). Fatigue countermeasures as a means to avoid crashes.
(c) Driver wellness. Basic health maintenance including diet and exercise. The importance of avoiding excessive use of alcohol.
(d) Whistleblower protection. The right of an employee to question the safety practices of an employer without the employee’s risk of losing a job or being subject to reprisals simply for stating a safety concern (29 CFR part 1978).”
That’s it. That’s the extent of the regulation. No where in these regulations is proficiency addressed. No where are hours of required instruction addressed. No where are hours behind the wheel addressed. Of course, CDL driver training is a work in progress: the feds have been working on this area of the rules for over twenty years and have yet to make any specific recommendations as to training. Even these wide-open regulations didn’t appear until the last two or three years. Why is this situation allowed to continue?
In a word, cheap freight! It’s all about ‘training’ new drivers as quickly as possible to be paid the lowest of wages ** (not covered by Wage and Hour laws) to haul freight on an inhumane schedule while turning the most profit for shippers, receivers, investors, carriers and to benefit the general economy. And, it didn’t happen by accident. The big players have waged war against training requirements for many years to keep the status quo. For the most part, truckers themselves would like to see stronger regulation over training. OOIDA has worked diligently to try to have more stringent training requirements mandated. So, why hasn’t it happened? That’s a long and sordid tale and we’ll talk about it tomorrow. Stay tuned . . .
* Dan Rather Reports is on HD Net if you have HVTV programming. You can find a link to the schedule locator here. If you dont have access to HDTV or HD Net, the show is available for download at iTunes. For $1.99, you’ll get the entire tv program for the scheduled date. The name of the show is “Queen of The Road.” Comments on the show here. Allen Smith, owner of Ask The Trucker, expects to have the show up on YouTube sometime in the near future but the timeline is unknown.
** For those not in the field that think truck drivers make good money, I wrote this article a year or so ago as an answer to ‘Do truck drivers make good money?’ It’s a complete guide to how to interpret the hype fed to the prospective truck driver by the advertisements.