In light of the recent fatal crash on I-70, it’s time to address the need to change standards in the trucking industry. This tragedy — four people killed in a massive pileup caused by a speeding rig — should force the public to realize changes are long overdue.
I’ve been driving a truck for 15 years and can tell you that driver training is the area lacking the most attention in this industry. Would you let someone with three weeks of training operate on you, or work on your house or car? No? Me either, and we shouldn’t be putting untrained drivers behind the wheel of a big truck. Forget the “everyone starts somewhere” garbage. We were all rookies at one time, but I didn’t get out into the general motoring public until I was competent enough to operate the truck safely.
Truck driver training “schools” and companies that provide training need to be held accountable for the drivers to whom they are issuing commercial driver’s licenses (CDL). For the first 12 months after graduation, the person who trained that driver needs to be held responsible for any mistakes that new driver makes. Driving schools have instructors who are also certified by the state to issue CDL road tests. That is a major conflict of interest. They have an incentive to pass the students regardless of whether they really are proficient. Only the state should be allowed administer the driving test.
And some people are just not cut out to drive a big truck. This isn’t grade school where everyone gets a prize. People’s lives are on the line here. Truck-driver safety starts earlier than CDL training. If someone is an unsafe driver in a car, they will be an unsafe driver in a truck.
So how do we fix the problem?
Driver education begins with teenagers getting their driver’s licenses. More training is warranted. Having a permit for a year and passing a test that is mostly memorization is not the proper way to go about preparing a person for a lifetime of driving safely. Permits need to be held for a minimum of two years and during those two years the permit holder should undergo 200 hours of driver training and be proficient enough to operate the vehicle before getting their license. That training could include skid-pad training, merging-traffic course (we really need one of those) as well as classes on how to drive larger vehicles under differing traffic and weather conditions.
As far as CDL training goes, three weeks of training is grossly insufficient and negligent. There needs to be an apprenticeship program where the student can learn how to drive safely. Training should begin with a student riding with an experienced driver (for about a week) to get the feel of what the truck-driving life is like. Actual school time should be at least 12 weeks.
Safety is what it’s all about, and I’m not talking about the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s definition, which implements all kinds of useless legislation in the name of safety. I’m talking about actual solutions to problems that have plagued this industry for far too long, things that electronic logging devices and computer sensors won’t make up for.
The trucking industry needs legislation passed to fix these problems. We need to make the schools and trucking companies accountable for the drivers they put out on the road with your family and mine. But greater effort also should be put into educating car drivers on sharing the road with trucks. Irresponsible auto drivers who pass a big rig and then closely cut in front of it and hit their brakes to make the next exit should get a ticket that carries a hefty fine and possible license suspension. Safety laws also should mandate that when an 18-wheeler has a signal on to change lanes or make a turn, cars MUST yield. I can’t tell you how many dangerous situations I’ve been in because of ignorant auto drivers.
Finally, any state that has a “no trucks left lane” rule should lose federal funding for infrastructure. I get it — people don’t want to get held up behind a truck. However, it would be safer for all with the truck in the lane farthest from merging traffic. People don’t understand that big trucks require longer distances to stop. In big cities, trucks should only be in the far right lane if they are going to exit. The center lane should be for normal travel and the left-most lane for passing.
There are enough cars and trucks on the road. It is imperative to address the lack of driver training that plagues our streets and highways every day. Getting a driver’s license should be made tougher with more rules and requirements that are actually enforced. One simple mistake on the road can lead to someone’s death.
Be safe everyone.
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