How carriers train and/or verify the training received by drivers is beginning to change significantly due to FMCSA's CSA program.
Though changes to the truck driver population long pre-date CSA — not the least of which is a shift between generations — the new safety program is now in some ways accelerating them at an even faster pace.
“In the past, it used to be that a father or an uncle taught truck driving to the kids right out of high school,” says Max Fuller, co-chairman and co-founder of U.S. Xpress Enterprises. “Truck drivers used to come out of trucking families. That completely changed with the advent of the commercial driver's license. Now drivers come from far broader walks of life, from driving schools, and we use driving simulators to verify their skills before they start working for us.”
Now, under the spotlight of CSA, there is an extra hurdle both carriers and new recruits must address to ensure drivers are trained properly to avoid the scrutiny of inspectors. Fuller says that while higher pay can, and does, attract truck driver job applicants, “training is becoming a bigger issue.”
FINDING THE TIME
Take, for example, distracted driving. How does a carrier address this issue from a training perspective fleet-wide without incurring excessive downtime for personnel and equipment?
Schneider National, for one, is delivering a customized software program developed by L-3 MPRI and delivered to Schneider's 13,000 drivers via its Qualcomm Mobile Computing Platform 200 Series (MCP 200) in-cab technology or through a standard Windows workstation to address this very topic. The training may be completed nearly anywhere and anytime that is convenient for the driver when, of course, the truck is not in motion.
According to Schneider, the program is comprised of flash video instruction and three checks on learning exercises, and it provides up to 30 minutes of training that can be taken all at once or separated into three topic areas.
It's important to mention, however, that FMCSA is not trying to rewrite the trucking safety rulebook via CSA, explains Gil Trevino, a safety specialist with Penske Truck Leasing. “They are actually reinterpreting it, along with the safety data they receive, in order to get a better handle on what can be done to reduce vehicle crashes,” he explains.
A former South Carolina state transportation police officer, Trevino stresses that one of the main goals of CSA is to more closely link together the safety performance of drivers and carriers through continually updated metrics in order to gain a more accurate and timely trucking safety picture.
A NARROW FOCUS
“The prism FMCSA is viewing all of this through is reducing crash risk,” he says. “That's why they want to reaffirm the connections between the driver, vehicle, and carrier. Ultimately, what happens through this is that you, the carrier, become responsible for all the components of safety. It's your vehicle; it's your driver.”
That's why driver training and verification of driver training becomes much more critical when viewed through CSA's more detailed “safety lens.”
Indeed, concern over the impact of CSA ranked number two on the “top ten” list of trucking concerns in 2010, according to an annual survey conducted by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI). The increasing connectivity between CSA and other issues worry the more than 4,000 trucking executives polled by the group, notes Rebecca Brewster, ATRI's executive director.
“We're seeing now that the impact of one issue can really affect the elements of the others,” she told Fleet Owner. “CSA, for example, is going to have a critical impact on the growing shortage of truck drivers, which re-emerged this year as a concern on our survey.”
Over 25% of those who responded to the survey rank this issue as their number-one worry, not only due to the expansive nature of FMCSA's new regulatory framework but also due to the uncertain impact CSA will have on carriers and drivers.
THE DRIVER SHORTAGE
An example of this growing connectivity revolves around concern number five on the ATRI list: the driver shortage. It returned as a stand-alone issue in the 2010 survey, reflecting in part new “safe-driver” hiring challenges placed on carriers by new regulations such as CSA.
“And the thing about CSA is that, while it may not make the list next year as an issue, it will continue to impact other trucking concerns such as the driver shortage for many years to come,” Brewster adds.
“All of this dovetails from what carriers are telling us; that it's pretty clear many of these issues exacerbate other ones, such as how CSA will make hiring drivers more difficult,” says Eric Starks, president of research firm FTR Associates.
The American Society for Training and Development reports that 77 million Baby Boomers are set to retire over the next two decades, with only 46 million Generation X and Generation Y workers set to enter the workforce. This “generational shift” will shrink the available pool of workers that trucking companies can draw upon for drivers.
As a result, carriers are trying to create new information tools to help them craft better strategies to address these issues, both from a broad perspective as well as from a more specific small-scale focus, such as driver training needs.
Schneider National, for example, is now using technological tools specifically developed to help it address the broader implications of CSA and other regulations, traffic congestion, and economic ups and downs in order to develop better strategies for the carrier.
Its new Tactical Planning Simulator (TPS), created in partnership with Princeton University, is a planning device to study policies that affect Schneider's freight network, including hiring locations, driver time at home, setting appointments, and cross-border driver management.
The TPS also troubleshoots the freight flow and determines the business impact federal regulations and customer shipping requests have on the supply chain. It treats drivers as “resources” and truckload shipments as “tasks.” The device matches a driver's location, domicile, capacity type, scheduled time at home, days away from home, available time, geographical constraints, and DOT hours of service with a shipment's origin and destination. Using that information, the TPS will generate metrics on how Schneider National can efficiently and effectively utilize its resources within the network.
“Application of our analyses has resulted in increased efficiency and cost reductions, improvements to [our] internal processes, and valuable insights and feedback provided to government regulatory officials,” explains Schneider engineer Ted Gifford. Gifford developed the simulation tool with John Nienow, Schneider engineer; Jeff Day, former Schneider associate; and Hugh Simao, Abraham George and Warren Powell of Princeton University over a period of three years.
“[We're] able to use the TPS to assess the myriad impacts of proposed changes,” notes Don Osterberg, Schneider's senior vice president of safety and driver training. “It provides decision support tools that project the first-, second- and third-order effects of contemplated decisions and helps remove emotion and conjecture from the debate. It's a powerful tool to have.”
Whatever tools carriers implement, the fact remains that having qualified drivers is vital under CSA. Carriers now need to recognize that safe drivers are just as important as having working equipment if they wish to avoid an inspector's watchful eye.