Entry-level driver training: Is there really a crisis?

On September 18, 2014, the Teamsters Union joined with Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (AHAS) and Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH) and sued the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) for not issuing a rule mandating minimum training standards to get a commercial driver’s license. Reading their press releases about the “problem” of inexperienced truck drivers was actually nauseating and full of half-truths concerning safety of the trucking industry.

Even the New York Times ran an editorial bashing FMCSA for not issuing a rule while also regurgitating “truck hating” talking points. One Midwest trucking trade association has made “driver training” their “single most important” safety issue facing the industry. This same group often complains about the lack of statistical analysis underlying FMCSA rulemakings, yet they are engaged in exactly the same behavior. Their position on driver training is long on unsubstantiated rhetoric, but as usual there is no meaningful scientific analysis to corroborate their claims.

How Many of us Began Our Trucking Career

CDL SchoolI learned to drive a truck the old-fashioned way – on my own. I worked in the garage of a trucking company doing menial work and the crusty ol’ geezer who owned the company got tired of having one of his experienced mechanics take time away from rebuilding an engine to drag a trailer into the shop, so I could fix a flat tire. Guess what he told me? If I couldn’t learn to perform yard moves on my own, he didn’t need me anymore.

So, in 1975 not wanting to lose my $1.45 per hour part-time job, I spent my own time at the terminal learning how to drive and I got my “chauffeurs license.” By 1977, the ol’ geezer had me running around in state picking-up loads to relieve the road drivers from that time consuming task. From that time forward, I accumulated 3.8 million miles without an accident. How was that possible without any federally mandated formal “driver training?” Was it just plain dumb luck or was my generation somehow “more mature” than the current crop of new drivers?

As far as that “maturity” argument goes – I say “hogwash.” In the late 1970’s the truck involved fatality rate was nearly 6 per hundred million miles traveled (today it is just over 1.0 per HMM). In the 1970’s there was no drug and alcohol testing (unless of course you are talking about the rampant “testing” of drugs or alcohol to be personally consumed.) Many states back then allowed 18 year olds to legally drink alcohol. There was no CDL, zero or no meaningful enforcement of hours-of-service regulations – I could go on and on, but you can see where I going here!

Many truckers I know have some sort of variation of my experience about how they began their trucking career. Maybe it was out of necessity because they were raised on a farm, or they learned while serving in the military. I know very few in my circle of friends who actually went to a “truck driving school” and guess what? They too have perfect or near perfect driving records when it comes to crashes (none of us counts smacking a deer at 60 mph. at 2 a.m. as a crash and I probably replaced half a dozen bumpers over the years resulting from animal strikes). Yet if you read some of the “wish list” mandates from groups mentioned above, everyone in the future would need to go through the same driver training curriculum regardless of other experiences or aptitude that makes fixed mandates counterproductive to encouraging someone to enter the industry.

I’ve never seen one single study substantiating a correlation between “X” amount of behind-the-wheel time in training and less risk of being involved in an accident. So why the continual bashing of all new drivers abilities? Despite everything negative said about “Rookie” drivers, where is the proof that having the federal government further meddle in the CDL programs of states is going to reduce truck involved crashes?

Who bears fault in truck involved crashes is a big deal. Many say four-wheelers are at fault 75-80 percent of the time. If that is true, we are dealing with a very small subset of overall crashes where the truck driver is at fault. What percentage of those can be laid-off on lack of training? Nobody really knows.

I purposely used the word “crashes” when talking about entry-level driver training because that is all this discussion should be about – not hiding behind “driver training” to reshape the industry by artificially creating barriers to entry. Yet, that later point is exactly why certain organizations support onerous restrictions absent demonstrable proof of any safety linkage.

It appears that there are “a few special interest groups out there” who want to remove the opportunity for many to enter the industry for reasons other than “safety.” Why would the Teamsters get behind the “driver training” effort? Generating artificial driver shortages increases their bargaining power during contract negotiations – it’s that simple. Creating more hurdles for those wishing to start their own business is another side benefit because organized labor hates small-business. And safety advocates with quiet encouragement from large motor carriers like to blame small-businesses for most safety related issues too – it’s all about limiting competition and increasing market share to them.

I Can’t Believe I Get to Use The Word “Communist” in An Article!

Commie flagOne recently circulated article amongst truck drivers titled – “Asleep at wheel: Carriers profit from trucker training mills” authored by Desiree Wood, president of REAL Women in Trucking, Inc. (not to be confused with Women in Trucking) is nothing more than an attack on large motor carriers and their hiring and training practices. It is also a very sly attack on corporate America and free enterprise from a group of misfits we haven’t heard from since the fall of the Berlin Wall – I believe they were called communists!

While I can find fault with some of the general politics played by large carriers, I’ll never buy into the idea they purposely put profits ahead of safety, but that mantra is taking hold among many drivers and I question whether many know how their opinions are being manipulated by sources they never imagined.

The website that published Ms. Wood’s article is called People’s World and just a little digging told me all I needed to know about everyone involved in this hit piece journalism. This website represents its editorial mission as, “partisan to the working class, people of color, women, young people, seniors, LGBT community, to international solidarity; to popularize the ideas of Marxism and Bill of Rights socialism. The website enjoys a special relationship with the Communist Party USA.” This was the exact language.

Should there be minimum entry-level training standards to get a CDL? Absolutely and the congress of the U.S. has mandated through law that this happens. The question really becomes how intrusive, burdensome, and costly will new training requirements be for commercial truck drivers and will this training actually improve highway safety?

Hiding behind the driver training issue to manufacture an artificial shortage of labor is unfortunately the real goal for many that are all jazzed up on this issue. Don’t be fooled, there’s a lot of politics being played by special interests groups on this issue – safety is arguably secondary!
– Joe R.