Catch this train(ing)

Efforts to upgrade quality of driver training are on track.Early one morning two years ago, a driver for C.R. England eased her rig into the emergency lane on the side of a Tennessee interstate. She was hot and all she wanted to do was to take off her jacket and continue on her run. That was not to happen.A car smashed into the rear of her trailer, killing three of the four people in the car. The

Efforts to upgrade quality of driver training are on track.

Early one morning two years ago, a driver for C.R. England eased her rig into the emergency lane on the side of a Tennessee interstate. She was hot and all she wanted to do was to take off her jacket and continue on her run. That was not to happen.

A car smashed into the rear of her trailer, killing three of the four people in the car. The survivor sued for $5 million.

The ensuing trial raised the issue of whether the driver had been adequately trained. Fortunately, the driver had graduated from England's driver training school, which had been certified by the Professional Truck Driver Institute of America (PTDIA).

England was able to avoid the heavy penalty. While that's a dramatic result of a credible training program, it's not what motivated England to develop the program in 1991. "We were experiencing so much growth that there was a real need to maintain consistency in training," says Dan England, CEO of the company. "Drivers think highly of training. A company interested in training is a company investing in drivers."

With high driver turnover, an industry reeling from a poor public image, and the government breathing down the industry's neck, there's no better time than now to start that investment.

"Every trucking company, regardless of whether or not it hires entry-level drivers, has a long-term stake in assuring that all entry-level drivers are thoroughly trained," says Lana Batts, president of the Truckload Carriers Assn. (TCA) and PTDIA. "The pool of experienced drivers will eventually dry up if we don't find a long-term way to attract and train a new pool of drivers out of today's young adults, women, and recent immigrants."

Plus, if the industry doesn't do it, government will. About a year ago, the government released a report stating that less than one out of three truck drivers received adequate levels of training. Many, including Batts, viewed that as the precursor of mandatory entry-level training. "The industry was looking down the barrel of a loaded gun -- the gun of mandatory entry-level driver training with all its costs, paperwork, and regulations," she says.

The TCA knew it couldn't take the conventional political course, which would be to fight mandatory driver training. So the association took matters into its own hands. It breathed new life into the moribund PTDIA. The organization had withered from years of neglect. It had limited visibility, little industry support, no effective marketing, and no money in the bank.

"Through PTDIA we could show the general public and the government that we were committed to high-quality truck driver training," she said. To accomplish these objectives, Batts involved drivers, carriers, insurance companies, driver training, and the schools themselves. Everyone wanted uniform skill standards, curriculum guidelines to help schools teach the skills, and certification standards for the schools. Those objectives helped pave the way for PTDIA's success. Today, those standards are being used by 31 training schools, bringing to 56 the number of schools in the program. States are also showing an interest in adopting the standards.

The train is leaving the station. Better get on board.

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