Better training, better drivers

June 3, 2008
“Driver productivity is going down. The ‘quality‘ of drivers is flat and will not be going up anytime soon.” -John Taratuta, president of truck driving school Know Safety, LLC, Grand Rapids, MI. The words above were sent to me a year or so ago by ...

Driver productivity is going down. The ‘quality‘ of drivers is flat and will not be going up anytime soon.” -John Taratuta, president of truck driving school Know Safety, LLC, Grand Rapids, MI.

The words above were sent to me a year or so ago by Mr. Taratuta in response to a story I‘d written about the driver recruiting needs of carriers - and Mr. Taratuta stressed to me a key point he believed I‘d overlooked. In his view, carriers simply weren‘t paying attention enough to the training needs of new drivers - that they blamed truck driving schools for any lack of skills, real or imagined, without truly being part of the solution anymore.

It‘s a point well worth considering. I remember back in 1995 when J.B. Hunt decided to close its top-rated driver training school, taking some of the monetary savings from that decision and applying it to driver pay rates. Hunt aimed to effectively build a better, more highly trained corps of drivers by paying for them - not by doing the hard and thankless work of training them from day one.

Yet it‘s hit or miss with truck driving schools in many ways. There are many excellent ones and many poor ones out there (there‘s a reason “CDL Mills” is an apt derogatory term) as we still lack national standards for them. (Yes, there are many VOLUNTARY standards, such as those promulgated by the Truckload Carriers Association, but that word VOLUNTARY takes the punch out those standards in some ways.)

Now, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is trying to help improve things. Yesterday, the agency awarded a total of $1 million in grants to nine technical and community colleges to enhance classroom safety curriculums and behind-the-wheel training courses for students enrolled in commercial driver‘s license (CDL) training programs.

“Our nation relies on a workforce of well-trained, safety conscious, professional truck and bus drivers to move our economy,” said FMCSA Administrator John Hill. “Through this grant program, we are helping provide the cadre of highly qualified commercial drivers that our nation needs. This is also an investment in individuals and in communities seeking enriched economic opportunities for the future.”

It‘s worthy to note that to be eligible to get these annual commercial motor vehicle (CMV) grants, you must be an accredited public and private institutions of higher education, federally recognized Native American Tribal Governments, and city, county and state governments.

These monies are part of the CMV Operator Training Grant Program, established by Congress back in 2005 through the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act--A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU. Ostensibly, this program has two goals: to expand the number of CDL holders possessing enhanced operator safety training to help reduce the severity and number of crashes on U.S. roads involving commercial motor vehicles; and to assist economically-distressed regions of the U.S. by providing workforce training opportunities for qualified individuals to become CMV operators.

Will it work? That remains to be seen. Mr. Taratuta, for one, believes what‘s really needed is more positive involvement by carriers themselves in the driver training process.

“And small carriers are not in the position to do the same amount of training that the larger carriers or allowed to train by their insurance companies,” he stressed to me. “That leaves the medium to large carriers to break in whomever are the new people. Now I have heard the argument that a driver is like an apprentice that has to pay his or her dues. But someone just learning to swing a hammer or whatever still gets to go home every night, relax, eat cheap and eat what they like.” Not so the new driver, he rightly points out.

It‘s a debate that‘s going to go on for a while, how to best train new drivers for the rigors of the road. We‘ll see where it leads us.

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