Standard issue

Driver standards provide reliable yardstickA standard, Webster's Dictionary tells us, is "something established by authority, custom, or general consent as a model or example."While such strictures sometimes serve as stumbling blocks to progress - as when the argument against change is "the old way worked well enough" - by and large they serve vital functions.Without engineering standards, bridges

Driver standards provide reliable yardstick

A standard, Webster's Dictionary tells us, is "something established by authority, custom, or general consent as a model or example."

While such strictures sometimes serve as stumbling blocks to progress - as when the argument against change is "the old way worked well enough" - by and large they serve vital functions.

Without engineering standards, bridges wouldn't stay up. Without construction standards, roads wouldn't last. And, so it would follow, without driver standards, truck freight wouldn't be delivered safely and efficiently.

So, it came as something of a shock to the brain recently when it struck me that until just a few months ago, trucking indeed had no common set of driver standards it could call on to help ensure the swift but safe movement of the nation's commerce.

Sure, many an individual truck operation has good driver training and performance standards in place. But until this past January, when the Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI) published its "Driver-Finishing Standards," industrywide guidelines didn't exist.

According to PTDI program manager Virginia DeRoze, the standards were developed by over 800 representatives from motor carriers, driver-training schools and insurance companies.

"Our biggest interest in seeing these standards established is to improve the safety and performance of new drivers coming into the industry," points out Stacy Dove, corporate training manager at D.M. Bowman. "If you're using a PTDI school on the front end and a PTDI carrier on the back end, continuity of training should be greatly enhanced."

Also making a case for more uniform training is Joseph Fuller, director of driver personnel for U.S. Xpress Enterprises. "There is a multitude of trucking companies out there and their training programs, as a whole, are just as diverse as you can image," he contends.

"We'll feel more confident that we are getting a competent driver if they come from a program such as ours - and our program's effectiveness will increase as a result," Fuller continues. "This decision was made for public safety," he adds. "It's up to us as responsible carriers to put as safe a driver as possible out there."

It's not surprising that the insurance industry would be fully supportive of developing driver-training standards. "What we hope to accomplish," relates Mike McCombs, vp of safety for Great West Casualty Co., "is that once carriers get these standards, they'll know what is necessary to complete their drivers' training."

It sounds good, especially to hear carriers and their insurers singing out of the same hymnbook. Who knows, maybe carriers that adopt the finishing standards will get a rate break.

But even if that doesn't happen, there's plenty good reason to look into the standards. For starters, they incorporate the Federal Highway Administration's "Minimum Standards for Training Tractor-Trailer Drivers."

To arrive at the standards, PTDI asked experts - including "high-performing" truck drivers, safety engineers and risk managers - "what must a driver know, and do, and how well must he or she be able to do it" to be a safe, productive driver?

The actual content of the PTDI standards is as wide-ranging as the great outdoors longhaul truckers travel through. There are no fewer than 27 separate skills addressed, everything from the prosaic, like "performing vehicle inspections," to the provocative, like "dealing with life on the road."

For more information on PTDI's driver-finishing standards, visit their web site at www.ptdi.org.

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